Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The chances look reasonably good that Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer
’s initial centre alliance last season, captain Jean de Villiers and Frans Steyn
, will go head to head in No 12 jerseys when the Sharks host the Stormers in Durban on Saturday.
The home team will be able to approach the latest Super Rugby derby in a slightly more relaxed frame of mind than their opponents, considering that they quelled a spirited Cheetahs’ fight-back to win in Bloemfontein in their opener, whilst the unusually dozy, mistake-riddled Stormers crashed without even a losing bonus point to the more focused Bulls at Loftus.
Apart from the likelihood that they will be direct opponents in this “Currie Cup final 2012 rematch” - it will very much depend on whether Juan de Jongh is fit for duty for the Stormers this week - De Villiers and Steyn are also currently serving as acting captains of their franchises, with Schalk Burger
and Keegan Daniel
The 21-year-old Damian de Allende made a moderate maiden Super Rugby start for the Capetonians in their Pretoria defeat, where he operated at inside centre: the ever-loyal and more versatile De Villiers made the switch to No 13, even if he remains probably more comfortable a little closer to the action.
Particularly with the untried halfback pairing of Nic Groom and Elton Jantjies
outplayed by their opposite numbers Francois Hougaard
and Morne Steyn on Friday night, Stormers coach Allister Coetzee
may well wish to bring the seasoned De Villiers - one of few in the away line-up to mostly live up to expectation - back into the channel nearer the flyhalf against the Sharks.
De Villiers at 12 and the slippery De Jongh just outside him represent a bit of an “old firm” for the Stormers, and if management are happy that the latter is properly over his hamstring niggle, he ought to be gleefully re-installed to the starting XV for Saturday’s crunch (19:10 kick-off).
Coetzee had said even before the Bulls game that if that fixture “had been a semi-final”, De Jongh would probably have made the cut.
With the stakes higher for them now following a first-round SA conference reverse, the Stormers will certainly want his wiles for the Kings Park trek if a medical green light is forthcoming.
Should he return to action, the midfield battle will see the incumbent, all-Stormers Bok centre alliance (they played together in the year-ending victory against England at Twickenham) pitted against the Sharks’ in-form big specimen Steyn, and the elusive, high-energy former SA under-20 star Paul Jordaan.
Those two seemed good foils for each other in the attractive game against the never-say-die Cheetahs.
The partnership between Steyn and De Villiers (again with the latter asked to do duty at No 13) was Meyer’s first choice when he started his Bok tenure last season, although Steyn later injured an ankle during the Castle Rugby Championship campaign and did not return to duty for the remainder of the year.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing