Johannesburg - As a No 8 Hacjivah Dayimani – reputedly the fastest man in a lightning-quick Lions squad – continues to cut a pace and power-fuelled swathe through the Currie Cup, a debate has developed among rugby fans.
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If he’s one of the top five fastest players in South Africa, why should he not use that speed in the relatively open spaces out on the wing, instead of the standing room only confines of the pack of forwards?
Dayimani has embarrassed wingers by beating them one on one, which has seduced many into suggesting wing might be better suited to his gifts.
But Ivan van Rooyen, his Currie Cup head coach, is not interested in putting the almost 21-year-old in a box.
“We’re not afraid to select guys in multiple positions; we’ve played Super Rugby games where [flank] Kwagga [Smith] was our reserve wing, for instance,” he said. “Last weekend, we went without a specialist nine and [fullback] Andries Coetzee doubling up as nine.
“In terms of speed, we’re not afraid to let guys play either loose forward or wing. We’ve had [former Lions utility forward] Willie Britz also double up as wing before.”
It’s not the first time the wing idea has been floated. Dayimani, who is said to be reluctant to switch positions, played wing in a SuperSport Rugby Challenge warm-up game against the Griffons earlier this year.
But, according to Van Rooyen, that wasn’t the beginning of a shift to the touchline: “I don’t think it was specifically to change his career path to move him to a different position. It’s just that he’s exceptionally quick and, with space he’s devastating, so even if he plays loose forward and you give him space, he’ll do the same damage.
“I see an absolute monster of an athlete; where he plays is almost irrelevant because his strength, speed, power, agility and ability to beat people one-on-one is world class.”
Another reason the move looks attractive is that Dayimani doesn’t look like a fan of operating in the tight exchanges, a shortcoming that is supposed to have lost him the SA Under-20 No 8 spot to Western Province’s superstrong Juarno Augustus.
But Dayimani is said to be reluctant to bulk up from his 1.89m, 98kg frame to address that supposed shortcoming, lest he loses the lightning speed that saw him run 10.70 seconds for the 100m when he was a teenager at Jeppe Boys’ High.
Van Rooyen wants that growth to be gradual: “With training, age and with development, he’ll gradually get heavier. Will I put him in a bulking phase in preseason? Definitely not. Our philosophy at the Lions is a bit different. We don’t pick guys on size or weight at all, otherwise we can’t pick Kwagga, you can’t pick Warren [Whiteley].
“For international standards, apparently, they’re too small, but for us, if you’re quick enough, strong enough or smart enough, you can play. So would I want him 10kg heavier? Definitely not next year or the year after. Might it happen when he’s 26 or 27? It’s a possibility.”
To further make his point about the merits of accepting Dayimani as he is and not wanting him to change, Van Rooyen answers the growth brigade with a series of questions of his own.
“Is he quick enough to play wing? Yes. Is he quick enough to be a loosie? Yes, he’s exceptionally quick. Is he big enough and strong enough to play a loosie? Definitely. Is he a big loosie? Yes. Would he be a big wing? Yes. Wherever he plays, he’s big, he’s quick – he’s exciting.”
For all his fighting talk about developing Dayimani as a No 8 for the time being, Van Rooyen is convinced he would have no problem adapting to being a backline player: “Part of his skill in using pace is he understands pace and, because he understands space, if he ever decided to move, it should be smooth.
“[But now] he’s an eight with us and we’re developing him as an eight. If you’re asking if he can be a Springbok eight, in my opinion, yes. He’s a complete athlete. Wherever you put him and wherever he plays, he’ll be amazing.”