Damian de Allende (Gallo Images)
London - Among South Africa's batch of talented young players at this year's Rugby World Cup, inside centre Damian de Allende has emerged as the most influential in the pool stages.
De Allende claimed the man of the match award in South Africa's 64-0 rout of the United States on Wednesday, ahead even of hat-trick scorer Bryan Habana.
His prize was deserved for his creative play off young flyhalf Handre Pollard, but also a rock-solid defence that has become a feature of his game.
The 23-year-old has played a telling role in the Boks conceding just a single try in their last three World Cup matches -- and that an intercept effort by Scotland.
Despite his growing reputation, De Allende maintains he is still learning and working out how to get the best out of electric outside centre Jesse Kriel.
Their partnership has ensured the loss of experienced captain and centre Jean de Villiers through injury has not been a serious problem for the Springboks.
"It has been a good year for me, but I wouldn't say I am comfortable. Far from it," De Allende told reporters on Thursday.
The Bok youngsters at 10, 12 and 13 have been a major positive in a year that has had more lows than highs.
"It has been a good introduction to international rugby, and we do enjoy playing together, but we all know we still have a lot to learn," he said.
"Hopefully, we have long international careers in front of us, but right now we are just at the beginning and have a lot of progress to make still."
Pollard and Kriel play for the Bulls Super Rugby team, though the latter featured at fullback in 2015. De Allende turns out for the Cape Town-based Stormers.
"We've known each other for about a year and we enjoy each other's company away from the field too. That does help," De Allende said.
"Over the past year we have come a long way together. But while there has been a lot of growth, there's still a lot of improvement that can be done.
"We are a long way from feeling completely comfortable at this level of rugby."
The trio will be tested again when they meet Wales or Australia in the World Cup quarter-finals at Twickenham on Oct. 17.