Leading from the centre
Thu, 27 Feb 2014 10:04
He [Smith] is a world class player, he has proven over the years how good he is
Jean de Villiers and Conrad Smith will line up opposite one another at Newlands on Friday with more than just their personal battle on their minds.
The Stormers and the Hurricanes both suffered disappointing defeats in their opening Super Rugby games last week, so both experienced centres will be expected to pick their teams up quickly to avoid falling any further off the early-season pace.
It is not very common for a rugby captain to wear a number higher than 10 on his back, as forwards and halfbacks are in the thick of the action and much closer to the referee, but there are not many players in world rugby who command more respect than Smith and De Villiers.
Both seasoned midfielders have proven themselves as world class operators and have also developed into impressive leaders at Test and Super Rugby level.
De Villiers has led the Springboks admirably for the last two years whilst Smith has performed the role of All Blacks vice captain under Richie McCaw and also marshalls the backline defence expertly.
They will need to draw on all of that experience when they run out at Newlands on Friday night, as both of their teams were completely shut out in their opening games.
The Stormers were stunned by the Lions who left them for dead at at Ellis Park, and the Hurricanes were outmuscled by the Sharks at Kings Park so they will both feel that they have a point to prove.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said this week that the decision to move De Villiers from 12 to 13 was not motivated by the threat that Smith will pose at outside centre, but rather to allow Damian de Allende to play in his best position of inside centre.
Whatever the reason behind the switch, it does set up a potentially defining duel between the two captains who have crossed swords many times over the years.
De Villiers told this website that he is looking forward to the challenge; making his respect for Smith's abilities very clear.
"He [Smith] is a world class player, he has proven over the years how good he is and it is always a nice challenge playing against him.
"We have played each other quite a number of times and this challenge will be no different. That is why we play rugby - to test yourself against the best - and it is always good to face quality players like that," he said.
Many will look at this match as a showdown between the Hurricanes' devastating attacking abilities and the Stormers' resolute defence and De Villiers admitted that with the likes of Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea, Cory Jane and Smith in the opposition backline his team will certainly have to be on their toes.
"They are a quality side, they can attack they have got fantastic individuals, All Blacks and guys that can spark an attack from anywhere so they are very dangerous in that regard and from our point of view we need to be solid defensively," he said.
The Sharks were able to keep the Hurricanes quiet out wide last week by attacking them up front which is likely to be a focus point for the Stormers, but De Villiers is also hoping that his team will also be able to pose a threat with the ball in hand after they were unable to create any meaningful opportunities against the Lions.
"We couldn't even show what we have been training from an attacking point of view this weekend [against the Lions] so hopefully we can score a couple of tries," he said.
Both captains will be under pressure to get their team's over the line on Friday, which should add something to their tussle at outside centre as they look for the spark to inspire their charges.
Tough situations like these often bring out the best in the top players, so expect a gripping individual battle at Newlands between two of the classiest backline players around.
By Michael de Vries
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