VIDEO: The midfield puzzle that won't solve itself
‘They have more similarities than differences.’
In that single sentence, South African assistant coach Felix Jones synopsized the midfield puzzle they have.
Damian de Allende is the incumbent in the Springbok No.12 jersey.
André Esterhuizen has been knocking, ever so louder, on the door and seems ready to just barge through with his giant-sized frame.
De Allende had a barnstorming start to South Africa’s defence of their World Cup title in the 18-3 win over Scotland this past weekend – the most carries (14), carried for 70
metres, including 59 post-contact – also the most of any player. He also beat six defenders.
The powerfully dynamic inside centre has made the No.12 jersey his own since the retirement of centurion Jean de Villiers and is now three-quarters of the way to 100 caps.
He has featured in 74 Tests since his debut against Argentina at Loftus Versfeld in August 2014. The 31-year-old stands 1.89 metres tall and weighs in at 106 kilogrammes.
In contrast, Esterhuizen – who made his Springbok debut in that odd Test against Wales in Washington DC and has played just 14 times for his country – is true to his soubriquet of ‘Andre the Giant’.
His 1.93 metre, 115-kilogram frame brings true power and pace to the team’s midfield.
The big No.12, a staple for Premiership club Harlequins, showed his value by being named Premiership Players’ Player of the Season in 2021/2022.
The 29-year-old looks set to get his World Cup debut against Romania in a Round Two outing in Bordeaux on Sunday.
Jones admitted that midfield is a tough selection.
(Springbok backline coach Felix Jones chats to @king365ed about the selection poser they have at No.12…)
“If you look at Andre Esterhuizen – not only in the games for us [this year], but throughout the season with Harlequins [in the Premiership and Europe] – he is somebody we have been keeping an eye on for the last two or three years,” Jones told @rugby365com.
“We’ve been closely monitoring his performances and he’s really pushing [for a starting spot] and performing very well.”
Comparing the playing styles of De Allende and Esterhuizen, Jones said every player has their own way of playing the game – a style that’s effective for them.
“I would say there are far more similarities about them, [rather] than too many differences for both,” he added.
“Obviously [they are] two very large, physical men.
“Both have demonstrated and shown really deft touches, along with an ability to move the ball.
“[They also have] good decision-making capabilities, a good kicking game – be it a long kicking game or short kicking game.
“And then also both of them have shown good abilities to connect and adapt to different players left or right of themselves.
“I would say there’s more similarities among them than differences.”
The Bok backline guru, Jones, said despite not being fully happy with the performance against Scotland, he believes the Boks are going in the right direction.
“I think the introduction of [new] guys over the past 18 months – Manie [Libbok] in particular – has been has been brilliant in terms of what he’s brought and the way he sees the game,” Jones said in the build-up to the Romania encounter.
“And then obviously, I mean, it’s been incredibly exciting seeing the emergence of guys like Kurt-Lee [Arendse] and Canan [Moodie], who are competing so greatly with the more experienced campaigners in Cheslin [Kolbe] and Makazole [Mapimpi].
“I think there’s still plenty of work to be done – plenty cohesion still to improve on – but generally speaking, the confidence is good and they’re working well together.”