CAPE TOWN – Dillyn Leyds at fullback. It’s a concept that’s becoming increasingly attractive.
It’s not like Leyds at No 15 is anything new. He wore the No 15 jersey before SP Marais joined the Stormers. In fact he’s played there a lot.
But once Marais settled in the Cape, Leyds had to make himself comfortable on the wing.
He’s looked good there, too. But if you look at the kind of play Leyds has recently created from the back, calling it threatening is an understatement.
In the Stormers’ Super Rugby opener against the Jaguares at Newlands last month, Leyds started at No 15 with Seabelo Senatla and Raymond Rhule on the wing.
Leyds was the catalyst behind a number of promising plays from the last line, often setting Senatla up to rattle the Argentinians on attack. Or confidently doing it himself.
That was no isolated case. The Springbok back has built a very impressive portfolio when it comes to sparking attacks from fullback. Fine touches from the Stormers’ half is almost a given when he has No 15 on his back.
The space seems to do him good. And this past weekend, in their stunning win over the Blues, Leyds again delivered a brilliant counter-attacking spell that created Rhule’s try.
And again, that wasn’t an out-of-the-ordinary moment.
So, looking at what he’s capable of doing at fullback, surely it should be the position that we see him in every weekend?
Don’t get me wrong, Marais has been an asset for the Stormers when it comes to spotting the black between the uprights. And his tactical kicking has also been an aid. He’s no slouch in general play when he’s fit either. But it’s obvious that the curse of the utility back hasn’t let Leyds slip from its grasp. And that’s unfortunate.
Stormers coach Robbie Fleck recently said that it’s unfair on Leyds as a player (him not being able to settle in a position), but that the team benefit from him being able to move around in the backline. He added that he appreciates the fact that Leyds can fill in at more than one spot, although it’s not conducive to his game and growth in terms of consistency.
Fleck also mentioned JJ Engelbrecht - who can at cover wing and centre - when discussing his versatile backs.
Engelbrecht produced a solid performance on the wing against the Blues as he carried strong, did a great job in the wide channel and spiced up his impressive outing with a number of stunning breaks and superb offloads - one setting up EW Viljoen for his try after pouncing on a fumbled Blues pass in their half. He can of course cover outside centre as well, and Fleck added that his versatility has also come in handy given the injury situation.
And while you can probably say that the Stormers mentor is in a good position when you look at the versatility he has in his backline, he can also be extremely pleased with the improving form others have shown.
Inside centre Damian de Allende is one of those guys, and he’s been looking sharp right from the start of the season.
The Bok midfielder had his moments against the Jaguares, and on tour he continued on that path. He was a backline standout in their tour-opener against the Waratahs, and he looked good against the Crusaders and Highlanders.
But against the Blues he took it to another level with a performance that made his firing 2015 form seem not too far off - a feat that becomes even more impressive when you take into account the fact that he didn’t train during the week in the build-up to that match due to flu, and only took part in the captain’s run the day before.
Injuries have of course not made his return any easier, and De Allende says staying injury free will play a big role in regaining form.
“It’s been going well for now. I’m just going to keep on working hard. I had a good pre-season and I felt refreshed again. I think last year I was in the same mind set, I just got injured in the first game,” De Allende said.
“I just decided to take it week by week and keep working hard, come here with a good mind set and try and be happy, no matter how sore I am, I’ll just keep on working hard and hopefully the rest will take care of itself.
“It was tough for me to come back, I think it was tougher because I wasn’t getting enough game time. And I think that’s where a lot of us get confidence - when we start playing consistently. I struggled to get consistent game time when I got back last year.
“After the injury last year I thought I did well to get back two weeks earlier than what I should have, but then I got injured again, unfortunately. It’s just one of those things, hopefully I can stay injury free for a while now.”
The Stormers’ backline promise doesn’t end there, of course.
There’s Damian Willemse, a young pivot proving that showing - in a massive way - that he’s well worth all the hype.
Then there’s Viljoen, who’s also looking good, and the injured Senatla.
It’s safe to say that Fleck is in an enviable position when you look at his backline stocks. There’s no lack of excitement there. So there’s no reason they can’t keep on performing.