South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has repeatedly said he will pick his Rugby World Cup side on form rather than reputation, but that resolve may be tested when it comes to his latest problem area – a centre pairing.
One of the star performers for the country in an otherwise dismal Super Rugby campaign was Western Stormers centre Damian de Allende, whose eye-catching, powerful displays won plenty of plaudits.
But with three international caps to his name, he is a rookie in the Springbok jersey and the return to the squad of 2007 World Cup winner Jaque Fourie is a sign that Meyer is looking for experience in the centre positions.
Captain Jean de Villiers should be fit for the tournament in England, though with little game time under his belt. Fourie, too, is working his way back from injury.
De Villiers will likely start in the bigger games at the World Cup, with Meyer valuing his leadership as much as his obvious ability.
And outgoing Stormers coach Allister Coetzee recently said he believes De Allende is a strong option to play alongside him, though possibly with roles reversed with the De Allende at inside centre.
“Damian has been outstanding, and Damian with the experience of a guy like Jean de Villiers next to him would be even better,” Coetzee said.
“Jean understands 12 and 13. I think he’s one of the better defending centres as a 13, almost as good as Jaque Fourie.
“Sometimes you’ve got to distinguish between a clever defender and a great tackler. Some people are brutal in tackling and the others read and they’re good defenders.
“Without tackling you I can keep two guys in check, and that is what Jean de Villiers is ... he makes good decisions like your 13 should make.
“If you asked me about Damian playing inside centre and Jean at 13, I would not have a problem with that. It is actually a good thing for our World Cup ambitions.”
Other centre options in the current expanded Springbok squad are Jan Serfontein, Lionel Mapoe and Frans Steyn, all currently injured, and 2007 World Cup winner JP Pietersen.
The World Cup will be held from September 18 to October 31 in England. South Africa are in Pool B along with Japan, Samoa, Scotland and United States.
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