Damian de Allende’s monstrous performance in midfield made him the Springboks’ most valuable player in their 26-3 Rugby World Cup quarter-final win over hosts Japan in Tokyo on Sunday, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The one backline player who matched the workrate of the rough and ruthless forwards, De Allende delivered a brutal and balanced performance. The colossal inside centre was unstoppable on attack and immovable on defence…powerful and peerless in terms of producing a complete performance.
That said, it was his stellar defensive work, in particular, that made him such an influential figure. Imposing, industrious and intelligent, he took up the role of ‘hard-working’ hitman. Always dependable on defence, De Allende ramped up his tackling intensity and output, a potent combination that saw him make crucial plays.
At 1.89m and 101kg, he serves as a roadblock on first and second phase, but in open play, that considerable bulk carries with it the risk of being beaten for pace by smaller, faster attackers. This was where De Allende really shone; his added hunger and vast experience put him in the perfect place at the perfect time in terms of tracking back, beautifully highlighted by his try-saving tackle on left-wing Kenki Fukuoka in the 13th minute and equally important breakdown turnover five metres from the Springboks’ tryline moments later.
He won a second turnover on the floor early in the second half that created one of several try-scoring opportunities not taken. The 27-year-old made 14 tackles in total, second only to Lood de Jager, and when it comes to intensity, look no further than his bone-crunching hit on replacement back Rikiya Matsuda in the 49th minute. Defence is all about attitude, and De Allende brought that fire to the Springbok backline.