De Allende the centre of attention World Cup
Rassie Erasmus had been unsure of his best option in the position, trying out Andre Esterhuizen and Damian de Allende in the position and at one stage last year even toying with the idea of moving Handre Pollard there.
He eventually opted for De Allende, restoring him to the inside centre berth he occupied with distinction at the 2015 event, and the coach’s instincts have been richly rewarded.
Six weeks into the World Cup and a few days before the final, De Allende’s detractors have either been silenced or have changed their tune such has been the 27-year-old’s form, especially in the quarter-final against Japan and the semi-final against Wales.
I believe De Allende was the best Bok on show in those matches, and the reason is because Rassie is playing him to his strengths. He is not being tasked as a playmaker but is far more gainfully employed using his considerable strength -105 kgs; 1.90m.
His try against Wales was power personified and against Japan he scored a similar one that should not have been disallowed for crawling (he wasn’t held).
That was not the first time his strength was misinterpreted by a referee. Two years ago at Newlands, De Allende was red-carded in the 75th minute against New Zealand by Jerome Garces (Saturday’s referee), for an alleged late hit on flyhalf Lima Sopoaga. A subsequent SANZAAR judiciary exonerated De Allende. That card probably cost the Boks a game the All Blacks won 25-24.
De Allende’s work rate has been remarkable, be it on defence, in his explosive carrying, or his efficiency at the breakdown where his strength allows him to ruck and counter-ruck effectively.
But where De Allende has come into his own is as a ball carrier when the Boks are hammering up the middle. He has made serious inroads in the channel between 10 and 12, where he gave Wales flyhalf Dan Biggar a hard time.
Rassie would love to have him doing the same in the final should George Ford and Owen Farrell remain in that axis.
They are fine playmakers, but not the greatest defenders.
Farrell has a reputation as being a hard man on defence, probably because of his infamous, armless tackle on Andre Esterhuizen last November, but he falls off tackles (on six occasions against the All Blacks last week)
It would be a huge doff of the cap in De Allende’s direction if Eddie Jones recalls burly Manu Tuilagi to mark him (moving Farrell back to 10).