Damian de Allende (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – The go-forward threat posed by sturdy Welsh inside centre Jamie Roberts has been highlighted by Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer ahead of Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final at Twickenham (17:00 SA time).
“They use their twelve (Roberts) to run it up (to the advantage line),” Meyer pointed out at his team announcement press conference on Wednesday.
And why wouldn’t Wales, generally deemed the slight underdogs for the encounter, want to make prodigious use of their established midfield powerhouse once more? After all, he represents a staunch counter to the broad physicality South Africa love to collectively demonstrate.
The Wales side had not been named at the time of writing, but Roberts is fully expected to take up his customary role in the No 12 jersey for them.
Apart from his tale-of-the-tape credentials (a six-footer, weighing almost 110 kilograms), Roberts is exactly the kind of seasoned customer who can influence a pressure-cooker RWC knockout clash – the 28-year-old boasts 76 international caps.
He has also gone into battle against the Boks 10 times, including twice during the British and Irish Lions series of 2009, so is hardly clueless about what to expect of them.
From a Bok point of view, it will be a fillip to know that Roberts ended up on the losing side on all of the first nine occasions against them, but in his most recent appearance he broke his duck – the end-of-year fixture at the Millennium Stadium in 2014 when Wales won 12-6 and SA captain Jean de Villiers suffered his ghastly knee and broader leg injury.
Still, it is not as though the Boks aren’t equipped to deal with his threat: policing him will be direct opposite number Damian de Allende and, not far away, the equally comforting presence of Handre Pollard in the flyhalf berth.
Both have the physical dimensions and healthy inclination to “mix it” against the most rugged of challengers -- and have only confirmed as much at this World Cup.
Not only has Pollard done his front-on defending with assuredness, but he has also made some unsung, firm track-back tackles after showing good awareness of imminent breakout danger.
As for De Allende, he is increasingly putting to rest the doubts over his defensive alignment and organisation since taking regular charge of the No 12 jersey following the forced retirement earlier in the tournament of De Villiers.
It is true that the absence of the long-time former captain robs the Boks of a considerable amount of intellectual wisdom in their midfield – De Allende’s partner at No 13, Jesse Kriel, is rawer than he is – but the former is also maturing at a satisfying rate of knots.
The Stormers’ hot property in Super Rugby this year is much less positionally naive already than he was a few months back as far as defensive shape is concerned.
Nor will he be overly intimidated by coming up against so street-wise a customer as Roberts: De Allende has more than held his own in 2015 internationals against the likes of New Zealand’s Ma’a Nonu (100 caps) and the Wallabies’ much-travelled Matt Giteau (99).
Certainly in someone like Nonu, the All Blacks possess a midfielder with very similar bodily strengths to the Welsh kingpin and De Allende is well used to encountering notably large backline specimens generally in the southern hemisphere franchise landscape.
Some of them are more explosive out of the blocks than Roberts, too, which should only remind De Allende that it is worth trying his nimble, attacking footwork on his opposite number and not just being obsessed with halting him when the Harlequins man has the ball in his own hands.
Jamie Roberts may well be bothersome in the quarter-final. But the same could apply to Damian de Allende ...
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