TOKYO, 24 Oct – Damian de Allende has graced the covers and pages of fashion magazines such as GQ, Men’s Health and L’Uomo Vogue and, with his perfectly styled hair and designer stubble to match, the inside-centre’s Spanish heritage shines through.
But it is not his Latin good looks that are so prized by the Springboks, it is a ruthless precision the likes of which might be more commonly attributed to a matador.
De Allende, who has 45 test caps, produced his finest display of Rugby World Cup 2019 in the 26-3 quarter-final victory over Japan on Sunday, pictured top. The 27-year-old ran with purpose with ball-in-hand, and was unlucky to have a try disallowed after the referee decided he was held in the tackle before getting up again to dive over the line.
He was immense in defence as well, making a match-leading 17 tackles. Even more crucial were the three turnovers he made, none more so than a few metres from the Bok try-line when he timed his entry into the breakdown perfectly to win the penalty.
His fine form is a reflection of the way he feels.
“Thankfully I haven’t gotten injured in the past two years," he said. "When you get going like that and you build momentum over such a long period of time, the hard work does start paying off. I wouldn’t say I’m in the best shape, but I’m really enjoying myself."
It has not always been plain sailing for the big midfielder from Cape Town who is leaving the Stormers in South Africa to join Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan when the World Cup is over
Despite weighing 101kg and being 1.89m tall, De Allende never made a provincial or national age-group team but impressed for the University of Cape Town in the 2012 Varsity Cup, where he became a more established member of the Western Province set-up.
Two years later, he earned his first call-up to the Springboks squad. Pictured below with his father after receiving his first cap, he forced his way into South Africa's 2015 World Cup starting side after they lost to Japan in their opening match.
He was one of the stars of the campaign as the Boks made the semi-finals before losing 20-18 to New Zealand.
His former Stormers coach Robbie Fleck often spoke about the massive boot De Allende possesses, as well as a classy passing game, but Bok fans do not get to see it so much as his role is much more refined at test level.
He is largely expected to barge his way over the advantage line instead of looking for offloads, but he said that he does have the freedom to try things.
“Sometimes it’s quite tough to make a 50-50 pass, because you know that if that pass doesn’t stick, you will probably concede seven, five or three points,” De Allende said.
“You want to take a few risks now and then, if you really have to. If the opportunity is there and you feel like you can do it, then do it.
“But I would say if you are in two minds and there’s a bit of doubt, then rather tuck it and try to play one or more phases and see if you can break the defence and get over the advantage line.”
It is the mindset De Allende will take in against Wales for the semi-final on Sunday. Just like a Spanish matador – draw them in, then pounce.