Do you know that Juan de Jongh last played Test rugby in 2012? That surely has to change in 2016...
The Stormers captain was largely ignored during the Heyneke Meyer era. He started in his last two Tests – under Meyer – against Scotland and England – at the end of 2012, and bar a few call-ups to Springbok squads, hasn’t been seen in the green-and-gold since.
His form subsequently took a knock, and he had the odd injury problem here and there, all of which led to him playing second fiddle to Jean de Villiers and Damian de Allende at the Stormers when they were both fit.
In between, De Jongh led Western Province to a Currie Cup triumph in 2014, but his Bok dream appeared to be over after 14 Test caps while Meyer was in charge.
But since he joined the Springbok Sevens set-up after last year’s Currie Cup, the Hugenote Hoërskool product from Wellington looks like a rejuvenated man. De Jongh has regained that sharpness that made him one of the most exciting centres in Super Rugby, and he’s picked up a few tricks from his Blitzboks mates.
The 27-year-old has spoken over the last few weeks about how one of his weaker aspects of his game – passing – has improved dramatically during his sevens stint, while his renowned step and handoff remain strong aspects of his make-up.
The brutal fitness regime in the shorter format has also ensured that De Jongh is in the best possible shape, so now he’s fully equipped to dazzle for the Stormers in Super Rugby and work his way back into the Springbok mix – no matter who the new national coach will be.
And that starts right away in Saturday’s opener against the Bulls, where he will come up against two Bok centres in Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel, both of whom have moved ahead of De Jongh in the national pecking order.
It’s going to be a fascinating duel in midfield, with De Jongh having the experienced but physical Johnny Kotze on his outside. Kotze probably won the nod ahead of Huw Jones due to his robust, confrontational approach, where Jones is the more classical No 13 who targets the outside gap.
It’s likely to get rough and tough at Newlands on Saturday, and De Jongh can’t wait to take on Serfontein and Kriel. “It’s (facing Serfontein and Kriel) a good challenge for me and Johnny. They’ve got a lot of experience and have been playing international rugby together. They’ve been in the international set-up, and for me, it’s more important to work on my combination with Johnny and not worry too much about them,” the No 12 said.
“Johnny is still a youngster, he’s still going to be around for a long time. So I want to share my experiences with him, like Jean and Jaque (Fourie) did with me before, to build a strong combination this season.
“I started my career at inside centre. In 2010 I played the whole season there next to Jaque Fourie, and after that I’ve played a lot at outside centre. So I’m comfortable in both positions.”
Normally Stormers-Bulls games are about the battle between the forwards, and how the Cape side have to neutralise the three-times champions upfront in order to win enough ball for the backs to attack with.
But while that will still be a big part of Saturday’s showdown, the Bulls backline have some serious firepower themselves, with exciting young fullback Warrick Gelant one of the new-generation SA Under-20 stars coming through into senior rugby.
Right wing Travis Ismaiel, who was born in Cape Town and attended Tygerberg High in Parow, also caught the eye during last year’s Currie Cup for the Blue Bulls, and he is an imposing force at 1.90m and 94kg.
But with the likes of Cheslin Kolbe, Dillyn Leyds, Kobus van Wyk and De Jongh himself in the Stormers back division, the home side shouldn’t take a step backwards.
“There are many different faces, but they’ve got a lot of new guys like (Warrick) Gelant, who brings something extra, and the wingers (Travis Ismaiel and Bjorn Basson) as well. They have some good seasons behind them, but it’s all about the spark that we are going to bring,” De Jongh said.
“We’ve got exciting players as well and youngsters who bring a lot of energy and excitement. So, we are looking forward to the battle, and it’s about making sure our forwards give us a good platform. Both teams have solid packs, and we need to fight fire with fire.”