Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The Lions’ nuggety Rohan Janse van Rensburg leads
a swelling list of challengers from the Vodacom Super Rugby landscape to Damian
de Allende’s unconvincing hold on the Springbok No 12 jersey.
De Allende’s overall form in 2016 has been about as
innocuous as it was near-superlative during 2015, when he seemed such a beacon
of hope for a bright Bok backline future with his incisive, inventive and
powerful showings both up to and then often during the World Cup in England.
For whatever reason, the 24-year-old from the Stormers has
really laboured to impose himself since his belated introduction to the
southern hemisphere season after a serious ankle injury in Japan - certainly he
has been way off the levels that deservedly earned him the mantle of SA Super
Rugby player of the year based on the last campaign.
That applies to both Super Rugby, despite his franchise’s sometimes
industrial advance to a guaranteed home quarter-final, and the home Test series
against Ireland which the Boks desperately narrowly won 2-1.
Last year one of De Allende’s big strengths was his deft
off-loading in contact, much along the lines of Sonny Bill Williams, while he
was also not averse to wicked, clear-cut breaks in midfield.
But over the last few weeks and months he has looked
disappointingly robotic and unimaginative in his key inside centre channel, and
his defence has exhibited some bad lapses on occasions, into the bargain.
There is still time, though it is ticking away, for him to
click into best form with the Rugby Championship looming … and he probably has
De Allende is being ever more seriously challenged by Janse van
Rensburg, the 105kg bundle of energy from the competition-leading Lions.
At just 21, the Welkom-born competitor already looks a
seasoned, assertive factor at Super Rugby level and was one of the main
drivers, in an otherwise patchy display by the team, of their eventual
thrashing of the Kings at Emirates Airline Park on Friday night.
The Boks will face some typically strong, explosive
Antipodean back-division beasts in both the New Zealand and Australia teams
during the Championship, and if De Allende isn’t careful, Janse van Rensburg will
offer just as appealing physical credentials to police the busy No 12 area - to
go with his currently superior personal form.
Statistics don’t mean everything, but the Lions midfielder
is presently eclipsing the more experienced De Allende in most departments of
Super Rugby 2016 based on the “official” figures.
For one thing, he has registered eight tries (leaving him
joint-ninth overall in the competition alongside team-mate Courtnall Skosan) to
De Allende’s two.
But he has also made more metres (472 v 282), clean breaks
(15 to six), beaten more defenders (27-19) and made more offloads in the tackle
(five to one, an area where De Allende had been so market-leading last year).
Especially if the Boks were to begin the Championship with
relatively diminutive Lions duo Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies as the halfback
pairing, coach Allister Coetzee would probably want the security of some decent
brawn at No 12 and Janse van Rensburg is showing, more and more, that that
natural attribute is accompanied by clever skills as well.
Of course he would bring excellent provincial synergy if
lining up in green and gold in a nine, 10, 12 and 13 alliance featuring yet
another Lions customer at outside centre in the form of Lionel Mapoe.
But other fairly strapping inside centres are coming to the
fore in late-competition among the SA franchises: Burger Odendaal (23) is in
good touch for the Bulls in the ongoing absence of Jan Serfontein, whilst
22-year-old Andre Esterhuizen produced some vital moments of influence at
convenient times in the Sharks’ bruising, hard-earned victory over the Cheetahs
All of these should serve as signals that the 16-Test-cap De
Allende needs to crank up his performance level in a hurry …
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