Damian de Allende: A dad, burns survivor and ‘incredible’ rugby player
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CAPE TOWN - ONE of Damian de Allende’s favourite words is “incredible”.
He uses it numerous times during our chat ahead of Sunday’s Rugby Championship showdown between the Springboks and Wallabies at the CBUS Super Stadium on the Gold Coast (12.05pm SA time kickoff).
But, when you think about it, incredible is an appropriate description for De Allende’s performances this year, and that has led to him receiving two nominations for the BrightRock Players Choice Awards, which will take place on September 23.
The 29-year-old centre is up for the Players’ Player of the Year award, as well as the Backline Player. It is deserved recognition for one of the ultimate workhorses in the current Bok set-up, who puts his body on the line in every game through his hard-running ball-carries, scramble defence and breakdown contesting.
“It’s incredible to know that I’ve been nominated by the other professional rugby players in South Africa. For me, it says a lot about my individual performance,” De Allende told Independent Media from Queensland.
“But I will never forget that it’s the other guys around me that have helped me a lot on the field, and put me in those positions to make brave decisions, and execute at a high level on the pitch.”
The Players Choice Awards is organised by MyPlayers, an organisation owned by the professional rugby players in South Africa, who assist members with various aspects of their careers, on and off the field.
.@SiyaKolisi_Bear, @EbenEtzebeth, Franco Mostert, @Doogz and Lukhanyo Am’s statuses as the leading South African rugby players were underlined as they were nominated for the Players Choice Awards. #Springboks— IOL Sport (@IOLsport) August 25, 2021
Then-Bok coach Rassie Erasmus took the relationship even further at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, where MyPlayers chief executive Eugene Henning was part of the squad in Japan to make the players’ lives more comfortable off the pitch, and that has continued this year.
Henning and MyPlayers national player relationship manager Isma-eel Dollie – the former Western Province flyhalf and SA Under-21 vice-captain – were with the Boks for the British and Irish Lions series, with Dollie also now on tour in Australia.
“MyPlayers is massively important going forward, especially after rugby’s finished. With the help to get guys into studying a bit, and trying to get qualifications for after rugby… Just trying to educate us better off the field as well,” De Allende said.
“And not just that, but also helping us manage our money and getting the right people involved in rugby to help us to make sure our futures are sorted.”
Being content off the field helps with performances on it, and that has been evident in De Allende’s form for Munster and the Boks in 2021. He also had to overcome the fire-pit incident in Ireland, which led to severe burns.
“I don’t think it would’ve happened in South Africa, if we had to braai there. What happened is that it was just an honest mistake. And for RG (Snyman) and myself, we were just at the wrong place at the wrong time, and it was just bad timing. We had had a good day, and it just happened. It was just bad luck,” he said.
“All I can be thankful for is that it isn’t worse… I’ve been to the burn clinic in Claremont in Cape Town, and to see how some of the kids and stuff get burnt, it’s quite heartbreaking.
“I’m just glad it was only really my legs that was caught badly, and I have been lucky enough to have healed quite nicely already, and been lucky enough to play rugby as well.”
Fatherhood has also become part of his life in Ireland and SA, after his girlfriend Domenica Vigliotti gave birth to their son in March. He cannot wait to see them again in Cape Town in a few weeks’ time.
“His name is Gabriel James de Allende... He was born in Ireland – I don’t know if that’s fortunate or unfortunate! But with Covid going around, we couldn’t get home to South Africa, to have him be born in South Africa.
“I would’ve loved that, being from Cape Town and South Africa, but it is what it is, and he is very healthy and very strong.”
De Allende – or ‘Doogz’ to his mates – has been a Bok stalwart in midfield, where he has formed a terrific partnership with Lukhanyo Am, and celebrated his 50th Test cap with a victory in the third Lions Test.
He come face-to-face with Wallaby powerhouse No 12 Samu Kerevi tomorrow, and says the Boks are excited about performing with spectators in the stands.
“I only have incredible things to say about Lukie. I always speak to him before the game, and I tell him he must get his hands on the ball a lot more, because I know what he can do with the ball in his hands,” De Allende said.
“I know he can create space and put other people into space as well. So, from that perspective, we are going well, but we know that we coming up against world-class opposition again.
.@Springboks centre Lukhanyo Am says they aren’t reading too much into #Australia’s recent performances as they prepare to face the @wallabies in the #RugbyChampionship. #Springboks— IOL Sport (@IOLsport) September 10, 2021
“From a Springbok-ambition point of view, we want to achieve a lot more in terms of silverware and stuff. But we will enjoy this week’s occasion. We are all looking forward to playing in front of a crowd again, and I think it’s going to be special.
“It’s probably going to be different because we haven’t experienced it since the World Cup. So, we will just go out on Sunday and enjoy ourselves, enjoy the occasion and play for each other and play for South Africa, and make each other proud. Hopefully we will walk off the field with big smiles on our faces.”
And the first thing he was planning to do once out of the mandatory 14-day Covid-19 quarantine yesterday? “The sun has been out every single day since we’ve been here. Obviously, me being in Ireland a bit, I haven’t had much sun over the past year! So, if I get a chance and have a bit of a break, I will take my T-shirt off and just soak in Vitamin D as much as I can!”