De Allende in the deep end
Damian de Allende's selection for the Currie Cup Final was a surprise for most, but not WP U21 coach John Dobson who expects him to shine at Kings Park.
Damian de Allende's selection for the Currie Cup Final was a surprise for most, but not WP Under-21 coach John Dobson who expects him to shine at Kings Park.
The exciting utility back has flown as far under the radar as possible for a young professional player, but on Saturday he will truly be under the microscope - playing in a new position in the pressure cauldron of the final.
Having made a few cameos at outside centre and on the wing this season, De Allende faces a test of both his skill and composure at inside centre on Saturday, but Dobson is confident that he will be able to take it all in his stride.
The Vodacom Cup-winning coach explained that De Allende, who only started playing rugby in Grade Eight at Milnerton High, will not be fazed by the big occasion and added that he has all the tools to become a star midfielder.
"He is one of those guys who doesn't know if he is playing touch rugby in Milnerton in front of two people or in front of 50 000.
"If anyone has the mentality to play in this final it is him, like if he comes down to the U21s from the Currie Cup side and you ask him if he is disappointed he will say 'no man, I just want to jol'.
"Where he is amazing is that while he has got this massive size at 95 kgs and over 1.8 metres tall, but he has got one of the biggest boots at the union, he is one of the best passers at the union and he has got the most unbelievable feet.
"To my mind he decides if he wants to play for South Africa or not," said Dobson.
De Allende's ascent to the big-time has been far from conventional, and it was former WP boss Alan Zondagh who first identified his talent before getting him involved in the Province set-up.
Dobson explained: "He was at Milnerton High which is not a sort of notable rugby nursery, where he stood out - but then he would stand out there.
"Alan Zondagh actually picked him up and got him to that Rugby Performance Centre out in Riebeek-West. Then he rang us up last year and said listen you have to look at this guy for Province Under-20 and then he started playing for us.
"He is a special guy because he has got no special pedigree because he doesn't come from one of these traditional schools or clubs," he said.
After impressing for Hamiltons in Cape Town De Allende showed his potential by shining in the Varsity Cup for UCT this year despite the fact that the Ikeys had a tournament to forget.
Dobson added that although De Allende has almost no experience at inside centre, his well-rounded skillset means that he has a big future in the position, on top of presenting an unknown factor for the Sharks to deal with this weekend.
"I don't think he has played much 12, but I think that 12 is his future. He has got everything - he can kick, step, pass, tackle - he is a freak," said Dobson.
Despite his raw talent, De Allende will be in for a tough examination up against Tim Whitehead whose career has taken off since joining the Sharks, and having coached both players Dobson is expecting a classic duel in the midfield this weekend.
"I don't think Province will begrudge me saying that it [moving to the Sharks] was the best thing Timmy could have done because he needed a start in top rugby and we had four Springboks.
"I reckon those are two of the best passers we will see in South African rugby. You don't think it when you look at Damien because of the way he looks, so you don't think he can pass but believe me he can.
"Timmy is one of the best passers around. That is the big threat of the Sharks - the space that Timmy gives Jordaan," he warned.
By Michael de Vries