Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – His CV may look rather less illustrious
statistically and in pure experience terms, but the Brumbies’ Matt Toomua
doesn’t have to feel too overawed by going head to head with Bulls points
machine Morne Steyn at flyhalf on Saturday (17:05).
The Super Rugby semi-final at Loftus will feature several
spicy individual match-ups, and an additional point of fascination is that
under South African Jake White’s coaching supervision, the revitalised Brumbies
play a fairly similar type of game to the host team, with a big emphasis on a
clinical set-piece and accuracy in tactical kicking.
In the last-named respect, Toomua is increasingly becoming a
shrewd general for the Aussie conference-winning franchise.
Certainly he seems to be rewarding now the patience the
Brumbies have shown in him, since signing him straight out of school as a raw
teenager in 2008; he is now 23.
Under White’s budding regime, Toomua has gradually assumed
first-choice credentials at No 10, with Wallabies-capped star Christian
Lealiifano shifting seamlessly to regular stationing at inside centre.
Taking much pressure off the Melbourne-born pivot is the
fact that Lealiifano remains customarily the first-choice place-kicker, so
Toomua is freed to focus on his linking duties and out-of-hand kicking game.
Of course that is not necessarily a guarantee of optimal confidence
in the individual, because in the non-qualifying Stormers fold this season, for
instance, some critics suggest the best was not extracted from labouring Elton
Jantjies for the very reason that he was not the designated main place-kicker
and did not seem especially “empowered” in the broadest sense.
Nevertheless, that issue has seemed rather less problematic
in the Toomua-Lealiifano alliance for the Brumbies in their key channels, with
Toomua usefully bossing games tactically to a far greater extent than
Speaking of the Newlands-based outfit, many Capetonians will
recall Toomua’s short stint on Western Province’s books during the 2009 Currie
Cup – he was a temporary recruit from the willing Brumbies (who were happy to
see him sample some rugby abroad and broaden his mind) when veteran Willem de
Waal succumbed to a neck injury and they needed to beef up their back-up
options to Peter Grant.
While understandably fairly wet behind the ears at 19 at the
time, Toomua’s talent was not in doubt and he did play the last seven minutes
off the bench in the thrilling semi-final against the very Bulls side he
encounters this weekend.
Steyn was customarily pulling the No 10 strings for the
visitors from Pretoria then, and it was his late, awkward-angled penalty that
saw the Bulls past the post 21-19.
Toomua’s star has risen to such an extent this year that
this week the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that he was one of six Brumbies players
named in their Aussie Super Rugby team of ordinary season.
Based on selections from their regular “team of the week”
exercise throughout the pre-knockout campaign, Toomua apparently comfortably
eclipsed the No 10s in joint second, Quade Cooper (Reds) and Bernard Foley
For the record, the other Brumbies to crack the nod for the
XV are fullback Jesse Mogg, wing Henry Speight, Lealiifano, and pack members
Ben Mowen and Stephen Moore.
Especially with the Bulls being installed as favourites by
most observers, given their rather obvious Highveld home advantage and the
Brumbies’ long trek for the game, there must still be a fairly good chance that
streetwise Steyn will assert himself more strongly at flyhalf.
The 29-year-old, after all, is a long-time points plunderer
of note in the competition, has been playing in it consistently since 2005 and
already sports a swollen three tournament-winning medals.
He has also been in greatly resurgent form – both off the
tee and for general enterprise and efficiency -- for the Springboks this
season, and looks a must-pick for the outset of the looming Castle Rugby
Championship, where he will seek to add to his current tally of 45 Test caps.
But just don’t preclude the possibility of some clever string-pulling
by opposite number Toomua on Saturday evening ...
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