Cape Town – Typically of the character he is, rehabilitating Springbok captain Jean de Villiers has been among those fulsomely praising the continued rosy form this year of Damian de Allende, one of the very men presenting an obstacle to his own return to full Test combat.
There remains a pretty good chance that the Stormers/WP stable-mates will find themselves paired in midfield for the Boks a bit later in this World Cup year – though Jesse Kriel is proving an early revelation at No 13 – and in the meantime De Allende’s best course of action is simply to stiffen his quest to be “undroppable”.
The 23-year-old pulled some devilish strings in the effective warm-up against a World combo at Newlands last weekend, but as our study of certain positional match-ups in the Castle Rugby Championship clash against Australia in Brisbane on Saturday (12:05 kickoff) indicates, he faces a very proven, like-minded foe for X-factor in the No 12 shirt on this occasion ...
Damien de Allende v Matt Giteau
He has made massive advances during 2015, but it also needs to be kept in mind that De Allende is still a raw factor on the highest stage: this will be only his third official Test start for South Africa. So the more street-wise opponents he encounters in the RWC lead-up, the better. In that regard, Suncorp Stadium on Saturday is ideal – he locks horns with one Matt Giteau, the 32-year-old talisman playing his first Wallabies match since July 2011 (a shock 32-23 reverse to Samoa in Sydney, when he was the flyhalf). Expect the Bok inside centre to back his combination of power and stealth in an attacking capacity, but he will also have to be defensively alert – and then some – if the 92-cap, Toulon-based Giteau gets a bit of front-foot momentum himself; he is the type of fleet-footed specimen better equipped to nip or swivel around people than crash crudely through them. This channel could provide truly enthralling entertainment on Saturday...
Handre Pollard v Quade Cooper
Pat Lambie’s gutsy claw-back from what Jean de Villiers reminded on Boots & All was “effectively a broken neck” heaps pressure on Pollard to produce a commanding all-round show at No 10 here, but at the same time it is extremely pleasing to this writer that coach Heyneke Meyer has kept faith in young Pollard despite certain glitches against the World XV. Hampered by the broad sterility of the Bulls’ game-plan in Super Rugby, it has not been the easiest of years thus far for the prodigious talent. Yet if his kicking out of hand and at the posts had its erratic hallmarks last week, he nevertheless produced some awe-inspiring hand skills, too. A couple of successful early strikes at goal should do his confidence the power of good against the Aussies. In the opposite “corner”, meanwhile, lurks another returning Wallaby near-veteran in the shape of Cooper, who has wrestled some major injury demons but instantly re-infuses a healthy sense of unpredictability to their plans at pivot. At the same time, the Boks will be acutely aware that while he can be lethal when on song, the 27-year-old “home-towner” on Saturday is also seriously gaffe-prone and can become rattled when the tide goes against him ...
Schalk Burger v Scott Higginbotham
There was a good old ding-dong in the SuperSport studio on Thursday night as Nick Mallett (Burger-inclined) and Owen Nkumane (pro-Warren Whiteley) got on their respective soapboxes over the current Bok No 8 role. The former lauded Meyer for giving the stalwart just a second start in 76 Tests in the jersey – he previously did it against the USA at Montpellier during the victorious 2007 World Cup – as he felt it was an astute horses-for-courses decision in the absence of Duane Vermeulen. Nkumane, however, contended that Whiteley had been done an injustice by tumbling right out of the match-day 23. Personally, I lean closer to the Mallett camp on this one: Burger has been playing with all the fire and urgency of old this season, and with an expanded skill set that frankly makes him a very attractive option for any of the loosie berths. Without any disrespect to the different attributes Whiteley brings (we ought to see more of him in green and gold pretty shortly), Big Schalk seems the right fit to front up to the Wallabies’ earthy, physically imposing Higginbotham in “Briz”.
Jannie du Plessis v James Slipper
There was a bee in the good (er, sometimes) doctor’s bonnet when Du Plessis ran out against the World XV, which wasn’t the worst development you will ever encounter in rugby. That said, his notably improved industry in open play was a bit spoiled by a cynical challenge on Bakkies Botha and some ongoing reservations about his scrummaging mettle. For Saturday, there may be a case for suggesting his biggest obstacle lies less in loosehead opponent Slipper than it does in the shape of the in-form Bok bench tighthead Frans Malherbe, who will be simply itching to get on the park. So it is vital that Du Plessis provides a solid right shoulder straight away at the set-piece; he will be well aware that a strong lobby feels he is on borrowed time at international level. His old propping ally Tendai Mtawarira, likewise, needs a strong show against Sekope Kepu, who he must have packed down against umpteen times in first-class rugby by now.
Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt
Giteau, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott
Higginbotham, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Will
Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (captain), 1 James Slipper
16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 James Horwill,
20 David Pocock, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Drew Mitchell
Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende,
11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7
Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Eben
Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira
16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lood
de Jager, 20 Oupa Mohoje, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lwazi
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