If sticking out like a beacon amidst a thick “fog” is a fine way to remind of your credentials, then Damian de Allende looks increasingly assured of the Springbok inside centre jersey at the outset of the international season….by Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
The Stormers were ruthlessly dismantled by the Brumbies in their Super Rugby finals series match at Newlands on Saturday, but one of very few positives for the home side was De Allende’s gallant attempt to light a home-town fire.
He was almost alone – certainly among a particularly listless and blundering backline – in looking properly up for it against the Australian foes.
The 23-year-old posed consistent problems to the Brumbies’ defence with ball in hand, making some decisive clean breaks and using his considerable muscularity when needed in contact situations.
On a day when the collectively economical weight of the Stormers back division was unfortunately exposed, his 101kg frame was a notable exception, even if we also saw some reminders that his defence remains a work in progress and he is prone to concentration-related or technical lapses there.
Courtesy of another energetic showing from De Allende – in keeping with a pattern virtually all season – his personal tournament statistics only blossomed despite the relative horror show going on around him.
He is easily the most striking South African presence (and there aren’t many) across the main attack-related departments in Super Rugby, and emerged from Saturday as now clear-cut leader for defenders beaten.
He closes his campaign on a tally of 76, eight ahead of Waratahs’ fullback kingpin Israel Folau, who will try to make up the gap in the home semi-final against the Highlanders and perhaps beyond it to the showpiece.
De Allende also lies a pleasing joint third on 26 for clean breaks – only four behind leader Waisake Naholo, the Highlanders-based wing flier.
He also sneaks top-10 berths – each time in 10th itself — for carries (156) and offloads (24) as the lone South African flag-carrier in those categories.
These are all figures not to be under-estimated in another season where perceptions only balloon that SA rugby is generally bankrupt for cutting-edge, ball-in-hand backline play.
It should make De Allende pretty hot favourite to start the Bok itinerary next month at the influential post of inside centre, at least until such time as rehabilitating captain Jean de Villiers (who can also play effectively at No 13) is back in the mix.
The Stormers youngster must be dying for a green-and-gold crack at twelve: his only two starts for the Boks thus far have been in the more distant channel – a role to which he is considerably less familiar — in the difficult pair of matches against Argentina in the 2014 Castle Rugby Championship.
Overlooking De Allende at inside centre right now would really be to miss a diamond among the depressing dust.