CAPE TOWN – You’ll never please everyone.
That is a string of words coaches should probably repeat three dozen times whenever they stumble across unflattering comments or opinions directed at their team selections.
Whether their coping mechanisms involve writing those italicised words down 100 times on the drawing board or something else, they probably have to practise it quite frequently.
When Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus named his team to face the All Blacks in Wellington yesterday, one name from the starting line-up didn’t take too long before it appeared in online comment sections...and not for reasons of the good kind.
No, it wasn’t Elton Jantjies (he’s not in the squad, but if he was he would have competed for that “most talked about” title).
It’s Damian de Allende. It seems like Rassie displeased quite a few fans by going with the Stormers midfielder; and I don’t understand why.
De Allende produced a Super Rugby season that would qualify as way more than just “solid”. Even though he played in four different centre pairings throughout the season thanks to the Stormers’ injury situation, the one constant was his form - whether he played alongside Ruhan Nel, Dan Kriel, Dan du Plessis or JJ Engelbrecht.
De Allende looked well on his way to finding his best form. He showed those subtleties that were for long overshadowed by the over-reliance on his physical attributes in recent years.
He was especially outstanding in two of the Stormers’ toughest games - against the Highlanders and the Crusaders - and throughout 2019 he was a major positive in a side that sometimes just couldn’t catch a break.
He brought direction. He brought width. His kicking game clearly went up a level and the physicality and go-forward he brought in midfield was still present, and unmissable.
The way he created space for his outside backs was one of his finest elements this year, and slick passes in the form of offloads and just a general, constant hunger to look for space, played a role in the big No 12s impressive 2019 productions.
During the team announcement, Erasmus again said they’re trying some things with the eye on the World Cup.
Last week Sharks back Andre Esterhuizen started at 12 alongside Jesse Kriel, and this week Erasmus has gone for a fuller-strength side. That De Allende is starting at inside centre in a key game shows that Erasmus hasn’t been missing his Super Rugby games.
Frans Steyn came off the bench for Esterhuizen against the Wallabies, and he will again provide versatility among the replacements.
De Allende might not be everybody’s pick, he doesn’t have to be, but what he did this year cannot be disputed, not even by those desperate to look the other way.
The Springboks team is:
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel.@WynonaLouw