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Familiarity breeds confidence for De Allende as part of powerful Springboks backline

South Africa’s starting backline from the 2019 World Cup final will line out again for the first Test against the Lions.

South Africa centre Damian de Allende.
South Africa centre Damian de Allende.
Image: Adam Davy

DAMIAN DE ALLENDE says the Springboks will set out “to be themselves” against the British and Irish Lions after head coach Jacques Nienaber was able to name an almost full-strength team for Saturday’s first Test in Cape Town.

South Africa revealed their team for the game yesterday – a day earlier than expected – and despite a heavily-disrupted lead-in to the Test series, Nienaber was able to name a formidable, familiar looking Boks selection.

In total, 21 of the matchday 23 featured at the 2019 World Cup, while the backline selected for Saturday is the exact same as the one which started the World Cup final defeat of England.

And De Allende, who has returned to full fitness following a fire pit accident which also included Munster and Springbok teammate RG Snyman last month, says that that familiarity in terms of selection represents a major boost for the hosts.

“It makes a massive difference. I think after what happened to myself and RG, if there were a lot of changes in the squad I think it would have been quite tough, but thankfully it’s not,’ said De Allende, who lined out for South Africa A in their defeat of the Lions last week.

“It was just nice playing again. Obviously we haven’t played together since the World Cup but we know our relationships on the field and off the field are so good, not just with the guys who are playing this weekend but the guys missing out as well.

It has been great that there is still a lot of consistency in the squad and I think it makes a massive difference. It almost allows us to be ourselves and try to fit in naturally again.”

De Allende admitted he was glad to be available for the series following June’s fire pit incident, which left four Munster players with burn injuries. 

“I’m just grateful it didn’t end up being any worse. Thinking of a guy like RG, I think he got the worst of it. I got lucky and I’m just glad I got to play rugby again.

“I did go into a bit of shock. I was in hospital on morphine and it was tough. When it wore off, the pain started to kick in and it struck me how bad it was and how much worse it could have been, and how lucky I had been.”

Despite concerns surrounding their preparations for the Lions series, the Springboks players selected for South Africa A last week showed no signs of rustiness as they powered to an impressive win against Gatland’s tourists.

Showcasing their usual physicality and ferocious defensive work, South Africa A even managed to hold firm when reduced to 13 men shortly before half-time, successfully keeping the Lions at bay as they pounded at the South Africa try-line. 

“Once the pressure is on and you are on the backfoot, I think that’s when you need to stick up your hand and, I won’t say try and be superman, but you’ve got to just put your body on the line and work as hard as you can,” De Allende explained.

“We always work that hard, but I think there are a lot of other Test teams that work just as hard and would have the same desire to try defend a try.

“But yeah, it was exceptional defence with 13 men on the field. Obviously we started the second half with 13 men again, we were under the pump again, but I thought we scrambled and tried our best and only conceded seven points in those minutes when we were down to 13.

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“We are going to make mistakes and we are going to do things wrong on the field, but we want to work for each other and make sure that we leave everything out there on the field for each other and work as hard as we can.” 

De Allende, who will win his 48th Test cap when he starts in the 12 shirt for the Springboks this weekend, also singled out two Ireland players when asked to assess the options available to the Lions in the centre positions.

“I think it’s world class (quality available to the Lions). Obviously they all play at Test match intensity.

“I know Bundee (Aki) is quite physical, he’s probably the most physical of the centre pairings there. Robbie Henshaw is also a great player, and so is Owen Farrell.

“I think they all pose a different threat. I think on the day it’s going to be tough whoever we play against. They are all world class players and I’m looking forward to not just playing against the centres, I’m looking forward to the challenge of playing against the Lions.”

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Ciarán Kennedy

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