Brown will free Damian to get his wish at Boks

rugby10 July 2024 21:05| © SuperSport
By:Gavin Rich
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Damian de Allende © Getty Images

There have been some dark days for South African rugby during Damian de Allende’s playing career and it was during the fightback from possibly the darkest hour for the Springboks that the old boy of Milnerton High School was probably criticised the most.

After Japan produced the biggest shock of the modern era in international rugby in a Pool game in Brighton in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the Boks had to dig themselves out of a hole.

They moved to a risk averse game that entailed one of De Allende or Schalk Burger carrying the ball up, and the ball seldom got beyond them.

It worked, with the Boks winning the rest of their Pool games, scraping past Wales at Twickenham in their quarterfinal before losing by two points to New Zealand in the semifinal.

It was a good recovery, and De Allende played a significant part with his strength on the ball, but it went largely unappreciated back home, where he was regarded as a one-trick pony in a team that was slated for being too conservative and dour under the coaching of Heyneke Meyer.


Desperate times though call for desperate measures, and De Allende was just doing what he was asked to do.

Had the Boks got past the All Blacks, they probably would have beaten the Wallabies in the final, and that entire World Cup would have had a very different narrative.

Considering where they were after the Japan defeat, their recovery under the good leadership of Fourie du Preez, who’d replaced the injured Jean de Villiers after the second game against Samoa, the recovery was remarkable.

Those who had watched De Allende develop in the Cape and some of those who coached him at Western Province would have struggled to recognise him in his Springbok role.

He was known in his youth as a player with good distribution skills, and he was certainly capable of playing a very different game to what he was asked to do in what was the last World Cup to end without the Boks lifting the Webb Ellis trophy.

Those who recognised the youthful De Allende for what he was would not have been surprised by new Bok attack coach Tony Brown’s assessment of him this week.

“Damian is just such a physical guy in the contact. He can offload and he can get a lot of momentum. One thing you don’t know about Damian de Allende is that he is the best passer in the Springbok team,” said Brown.

For his part, De Allende confesses he would always have preferred to give greater vent to his skills as a distributor, but was just too much of a team man to complain about whatever role he was asked to fill for the national team or for that matter his club and provincial/franchise teams (when he played for the Stormers they weren’t the free-ranging attack orientated team they have become under John Dobson).

“I always wanted to pass more, but I also know sometimes you need to do a role, which is more important in my view,” said the strongly built centre.

“It’s also just about getting that balance right on when to pass and when not to pass. It is something I have been working on. In Japan, I get asked to move the ball around a bit more, which is nice. It gives my body a bit of a break (from the contact) during games. But like I said, it’s just finding that balance and trying to get that balance right in the game.”


It may not be coincidental that both De Allende and Jesse Kriel, who together will break the record of 30 caps for a Bok centre pairing set by the old firm of De Villiers and Jaque Fourie, are playing their best attacking rugby and starting to flourish while they play their club rugby in Japan.

The style of rugby there does entail the centres getting their hands on the ball a lot and there is a lot of ball in play time.

Brown, a former All Black flyhalf, was of course the Japan national team’s attack coach until relatively recently, and it is his aim to add some of that dynamic to the traditional Bok strengths.

De Allende, and his midfield partner Kriel, should flourish.

De Allende’s role in the Bok team is finally coinciding with what he wants to do, and not what he needs to do or is asked to do.

For his part, De Allende gives Kriel a lot of credit for what went right last Saturday against Ireland at Loftus, a game where with a bit of luck the Bok attacking game could have netted another two or three tries. They were particularly dominant in the first half.

“His decision-making on defence was incredible,” said De Allende in reference to Kriel’s contribution.

“He put the Irish players under a lot of pressure and you could see that on the field. When someone is that brave and they take that chance, you could see that the Irish were under pressure. I think the Irish will maybe come with a different game plan, but it was incredible to watch Jesse on the weekend and play with him.”

De Allende said he was chuffed to be breaking the record set by De Villiers and Fourie for the most number of games for the Boks as a midfield pairing, but that his priority is to focus on getting the win that will secure a series win against the world’s No 2 ranked team.

“In their prime, Jean and Jaque were probably the two best centres playing at the time, so it is an incredible achievement. But I am not focused on that. I just want to get the job done on Saturday and I will celebrate that afterwards.”

That’s just so typical of the man.