Johannesburg - He’s leapfrogged more recognised outside centres like Juan de Jongh and JJ Engelbrecht to be the Springboks’ first choice No13 - a position he admits he’s not too familiar with - and added to that, Damian de Allende is still very much a rugby rookie. He only started playing the game seriously at the age of 16. He’s now 22.
“I didn’t know rugby that well when I was in high school (at Milnerton High in Cape Town) and only started taking it seriously in grade 10 and 11 when I started understanding the game a bit better,” he said on Wednesday.
“My favourite sports growing up were soccer and cricket,” he adds, stating he was an opening bowler in his younger days and is a big Liverpool fan.
But a successful season with the Western Province U-19 team in 2010 got people talking, while some television time playing Varsity Cup rugby for Ikeys also helped. Now, two years after making his Currie Cup debut, De Allende will earn his first Test cap, in the unfamiliar position of outside centre.
“The last time I played 13 was in the opening game of last year’s Currie Cup, against the Bulls. But I think having Jean (de Villiers) on my inside will help. It’s a big challenge for me, but I’m looking forward to it.”
The 1.89m tall, 103kg De Allende said there wasn’t that much difference between inside and outside centre. “Playing at 13 is about making the right decisions at the right time and identifying the space on the outside.
“Coach Heyneke (Meyer) wants a physical presence from me, but Loftus is a fast field so it’ll be interesting to see how the game develops.”
Meyer spoke highly of the latest man to wear the Bok No13 jersey. “Damian really impressed me in Super Rugby. I like his mental toughness. When I pick players I look at their character when they play away from home in Super Rugby, and he impressed me in tough conditions in New Zealand. He’s a tough player but he’s also got skills. For a big guy he’s got soft touches on the ball and he runs beautiful lines.
“Damian’s played on the wing before so he’s got the speed as well, and there’s nothing wrong with his defence. I believe he can be an excellent outside centre and I want to give him a chance,” Meyer added.
Besides the new-look midfield, Ruan Pienaar takes over the No9 jersey, while Handré Pollard gets another crack at flyhalf. Up front, Beast Mtawarira returns, while Lood de Jager takes over from Victor Matfield.