Stormers’ Boks to halt Fekitoa?
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – He is the talk of Super Rugby this week after his thrilling, 50-metre solo bust through the Sharks’ defence in Durban.VIDEO: Super Rugby Week 11 recap
Now rookie Highlanders outside centre Malakai Fekitoa sets his sights on an appealing new challenge: having a crack at the Stormers’ seasoned Springbok midfield pairing of Jean de Villiers and Juan de Jongh at Newlands.
For long-suffering rugby purists in the Western Cape, it is one pretty good reason for attending the Saturday fixture (a welcome 15:00 kick-off) even if the Stormers are well out of contention this year for a playoffs berth.
But the surprise packet Highlanders are certainly targeting the top six, particularly after their 34-18 humbling of the log-leading Sharks at Kings Park.
The 21-year-old, Tongan-born Fekitoa proved a major handful for the home team’s starting midfielders of Frans Steyn (notably off his earlier high standards on the night) and the only recently fit-again Paul Jordaan.
He combines electric pace and elusiveness with power in his near-100kg frame, and had been more than bothersome even before his 70th-minute moment of magic when he sliced through several holes from a long way out and basically put the cherry on top of a sparkling Highlanders performance generally.
Hardly surprisingly, he is being talked up now as a potential All Blacks squad member in a few weeks’ time.
“With no obvious specialist back-up to (veteran Test incumbent) Conrad Smith, a position is up for grabs,” noted The Otago Daily Times (www.odt.co.nz) this week. “He must be pushing very close.
“Fekitoa has X-factor, he is a hard worker on defence who reads the game well and knows when to come up, while also capable of doing well at the breakdown.”
Still, he should not have matters all his own way against the Stormers: Bok captain De Villiers and his tenacious franchise partner De Jongh will be out only to remind of their own pedigree, not to mention immeasurably superior experience.
The former, in particular, showed some deft touches of his own in the high-tempo wooden-spoon game against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, whilst De Jongh is finally beginning to revel in extended game-time after spending too much of the last couple of years on the treatment table.
The last-named player will almost certainly be Fekitoa’s direct rival on Saturday – unless the Stormers surprise a little by reintroducing brawny, in-form wing Damien de Allende to midfield and asking De Villiers to wear No 13 – and it is De Jongh’s own ideal opportunity to re-establish his credentials in the eyes of Bok coach Heyneke Meyer.
Nevertheless, if the ambitious Highlanders have done their homework properly, they will be aware that the Stormers are currently caught between a rock and a hard place: while trying to buck up their all-too-dormant attacking play, some sacrifices are clearly being made in their once near-legendary defensive department.
Leaking five tries to the Cheetahs only highlighted that fact, although it must be said that much of the decisive sniping by the home side, in their 35-22 triumph, came from Willie le Roux and company in wider areas of the park, rather than through the Stormers’ midfield.
Still, De Villiers and De Jongh are likely to have to be even more watertight and vigilant as Mr Fekitoa comes to town on Saturday ...*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing