Stormers rookie Damian de Allende’s second Super Rugby assignment on Saturday will be a significantly greater challenge than his first.
The 21-year-old centre experienced a baptism of fire in his Super Rugby debut against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld last week, going head-to-head with Super Rugby centurion and Springbok midfielder Wynand Olivier.
De Allende’s Super Rugby ‘initiation’ will be stepped up a gear this weekend when he collides with Sharks captain and World Cup-winning Springbok Frans Steyn.
De Allende’s centre partner, Stormers and Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers, urged the greenhorn to embrace the challenge that awaits him in Durban.
“He’s an exciting player and what he does he does pretty well but I think last weekend he realised that the step up from Currie Cup to Super Rugby is a big step,” said De Villiers.
“The test this week is even bigger, playing against Frans. If you want to get to the top and be the best in your position you want to test yourself against the best and that’s the situation he’ll be in this weekend.”
De Villiers added that he will continue giving guidance to De Allende but said the youngster will have to face the positional battle head on.
“We won’t be swapping too much on first phase,” he said.
“We’ve changed our approach this year in that we don’t want to be spoon feeding each other anymore. When you get selected you take that responsibility. It means you’re good enough.
“The more senior guys will help where we can but at the end of the day each guy is responsible for his job on the field. I’m very confident that the guys in that position will do their job and be fine on Saturday.”
At 100kg and 1.89m, De Allende has the physical attributes to stand up to Steyn. After only taking up the game at 14, he has carved out a reputation as a hard-running centre with a solid distribution game and has a Currie Cup winner’s medal to his name.
The Stormers have not suffered back-to-back defeats since 2011 - when they succumbed 14-20 to the Crusaders and 23-30 to the Chiefs in consecutive weeks - and are the two-time defending South African Conference champions.
De Villiers said the team pride themselves on their consistency and will look to uphold the standard they have set in recent seasons following the 17-25 loss to the Bulls.
“We’ve performed well over the last couple of years and we wouldn’t want that standard to drop. For someone like me who’s been here for quite a while it took us a while to get to the standard up to where it is now. It’s much easier to drop it than to get it back to the top,” he said.
De Villiers said they let themselves down at Loftus Versfeld and will need to switch on mentally to return to their winning ways at Kings Park.
“We need to come into the game with the right frame of mind, knowing what to do to win up there and executing that. Sometimes you lose a game against a better side and sometimes you lose a game because you didn’t pitch - we didn’t pitch.
“That will never be acceptable. Losing will never be acceptable, but the manner in which we played was the most disappointing part of that game.”
He said the added pressure the team are under this season won’t impact their performance on the field.
“The pressure will always be there and the expectations are higher this year. Last year we were under pressure because we didn’t score enough tries, this year we are under pressure because we have a good squad and we’re not winning.
“At the end of the day you need to go out and perform. We’re working towards playing better rugby and get a campaign going that’s acceptable to us as players.”