WATCH: Stormers centres Dan du Plessis, Ruhan Nel get seal of approval from past master Jean de Villiers

Published May 23, 2023


Cape Town — The Stormers have boasted some dynamic centre pairings over the years.

Andy Marinos and Robbie Fleck ruled the midfield for the original “Men in Black” before Fleck and De Wet Barry partnered up. But that was before the world-class Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie formed a formidable partnership.

De Villiers, though, believes the Class of 2023 featuring Dan du Plessis and Ruhan Nel are writing their own script through their classy performances in this season’s United Rugby Championship (URC) and can rubber stamp their names into Stormers folklore with another dominant outing against Munster in Saturday’s final at Cape Town Stadium.

“I always say that when you talk about midfielders it’s a combination. You have to pick a combination, because sometimes you put two guys together, who are individually really good, but they just don’t gel,” De Villiers said.

“It seems like that with Dan and Ruhan, they really do gel. I think the make-up of the backline as a whole also has an impact on that. They use Damian Willemse in certain areas to perform certain skills, and obviously Manie (Libbok) there as well, so the way they interlink and change around is also a benefit to them. But these two have played really well together.”

Du Plessis, in particular, has long been a prodigy touted to take ownership of the Stormers midfield. Injuries have, though, curtailed his development, having debuted back in 2015. Last season was particularly galling when after an excellent maiden URC campaign, Du Plessis’ involvement was curtailed prior to the play-offs.

The 28-year-old has admitted the Stormers’ championship success last season was “bittersweet” for him, which has fuelled his desire to make a bigger impact this time around.

Du Plessis hasn’t left anything in the tank, throwing his often fragile body into the Stormers’ defensive alignment. Equally, on attack, he is often the blunt knife that looks to make the initial incision in the opposition’s defence that creates the momentum for the more silky runners out wide.

It has not gone unnoticed with Du Plessis being named in the URC Elite XV this season.

“Dan du Plessis has always been one, like when he initially came on the scene, I thought he had the goods. And then he never quite kicked on and performed that I think he could have,” De Villiers said. “Whereas, this season he has done really well. He has been consistent in his performances, injury free, so that’s been really good.”

Munster boast equally formidable centres with former All Black Malakai Fekitoa returning to the squad that already boasts the talented Shane Daly and Jack Crowley. Fekitoa was particularly impressive when the Irish team stunned the Stormers in Cape Town last month and a battle royale is expected in the midfield this week.

De Villiers, though, believes the Stormers pair have the edge, especially as they have already overcome so many obstacles this season.

“If you think about it … Ruhan Nel broke his neck in one of the warm-up games before the URC started, and now he is playing in a URC final. That’s fascinating if you put that into context,” he said.

“Their work-rate is immense, their defence is solid which is a big part of the Stormers’ game. But it’s more their work-rate that really brings value to the team.”


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