Cape Town – Stormers coach Robbie Fleck
should seriously consider reprising Springbok Juan de Jongh’s already-known
ability to cover the crucial inside centre position at this time of heightened
need by the Newlands outfit.
Traditionally the hot-stepping De Jongh has
been employed primarily in the outside berth, whether for South Africa, the
Stormers or Western Province, and the status quo was no doubt intended to
prevail for Super Rugby 2016.
But the franchise are suddenly alarmingly
short-staffed, for the start of the campaign, at No 12 following the revelation
that versatile, experienced Jaco Taute requires ankle surgery – he joins the
top choice in the slot, Damian de Allende, on the sidelines for the next few
De Allende, one of the rare backline
shining lights at national level last year, is expected back around mid-April but
that still means the Stormers have a considerable problem for at least half a
dozen matches ahead of his return.
Remember that for the lion’s share of the
last decade and more, they were blessed in the important strategic position by
the presence – often as captain too -- of a certain Jean de Villiers, now in
the twilight of his illustrious first-class career at Leicester.
But on the subject of De Villiers, he
similarly left a hole at No 12 in the middle of his lengthy Newlands-based
career during 2010, when he had a short-term stint with Munster.
So in the first that year of two seasons in
which the Stormers snared the services of another classy midfield Springbok in
the shape of Jaque Fourie, a specialist No 13, a young De Jongh was entrusted
with policing the closer channel.
He did the job more than competently,
having little trouble finding the appropriate synergy with Fourie and adapting
in an unfussed way to the berth next to the flyhalf.
The pair were at Nos 12 and 13 respectively
in the 2010 final, when the Stormers came their closest yet to winning Super
Rugby overall; they played second fiddle to the Bulls in the showpiece at
The now 27-year-old De Jongh, who returns
to the Cape and the XVs mode immediately after this weekend’s Sydney leg of the
HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series with the Blitzbokke, would bring a vital,
necessary element of battle-hardened nous and direction to the Stormers’ still
rather vulnerable-looking trio of “conduit” positions between the pack and
outside backs – jerseys nine, 10 and 12, where sound decision-making is a core
It already seems likely that they will be
giving the 22-year-old Robert du Preez maiden, fairly extended exposure to the
pivot position at this level after he blew hot and cold in the 2015 Currie Cup
(the jury similarly remains out over enigmatic Kurt Coleman’s qualities).
Fleck has reportedly hinted to the media
that Huw Jones – another 22-year-old -- is an option to plug the No 12 vacancy
although he can also not yet be branded a Super Rugby “regular” and is more
accustomed anyway with wider berths on the park.
If the Stormers want to stave off looking
dangerously callow in the backline slots closest to the engine room, De Jongh
could be the correct short-term balancer at inside centre, leaving Jones to
slug out rights to No 13 with the likes of Johnny Kotze and Kobus van Wyk.
The slippery De Jongh is a commendable
“team” player, boasts leadership experience for WP at Currie Cup level and just
seems a comforting fit at No 12 – a busy channel where his tigerish,
grab-him-low tackling would come in especially handy -- for the moment.
Perhaps Fleck is resolute in his wish to
make use of De Jongh’s knack of wriggling through holes in areas where there is
generally greater space on offer ... but a counter view might be that if there
is an overly naive look to the players further infield, the outside backs aren’t
going to be set in offensive motion too regularly anyway.
It’s just food for thought.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing