Juan de Jongh scores victory for the little guy in world of monster midfielders
Scotland know not to underestimate the Springboks' 5ft 9in inside centre today
Friday 16 November 2012
It was on 5 June 2010 that Juan de Jongh got his first chance to strut his stuff in the Springbok No 12 jersey. Two minutes into his debut, the Stormers centre found himself in possession and in space in a summer Test against Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
He also found Jamie Roberts bearing down on him. The flyweight midfielder was swatted backwards and off the ball in unceremonious fashion. At 5ft 9in and 13st, he was no match for the 6ft 4in, 16st Welsh outhouse of an inside centre in the physicality department. It was rather like that When Mathew Met Gavin moment – as distinct from When Harry Met Sally – when the fledgling Mathew Tait was welcomed on to the international stage by a Gavin Henson shunt at the Millennium Stadium in 2005.
But then De Jongh proceeded to pick himself off the floor and show his fighting quality. Floating like a butterfly through Roberts and the rest of the Welsh midfield, he scored the 59th-minute try that effectively secured victory for a makeshift Springbok side.
Two and a half years on, at 24 and with 12 caps to his name, De Jongh gets another starting chance for the Boks today.
This time – on the second leg of their November tour, against Scotland at Murrayfield – he is not a stop-gap stand-in, as he was for Butch James on his debut. He is one of the emerging Springbok talents that Heyneke Meyer is toughening in the northern hemisphere with the 2015 World Cup in England in mind.
"Juan has really impressed us all year," said Meyer, the sometime Leicester head coach who assumed the Springbok reins from Peter de Villiers at the start of the year. "He's been great in training. I just felt he needed a chance to show what he can do at this level."
De Jongh's promotion to a starting berth has not been lost on Andy Robinson, whose Scotland side are seeking to emulate their achievement of bouncing back from a walloping by the All Blacks – it finished 51-22 last Sunday – with a victory against the Boks.
"People might not have seen a lot of De Jongh," said Robinson, the coach who blooded the teenage Tait in the international arena seven years ago.
"Just have a look at a clip of the try he scored for Western Province in the Currie Cup final – fantastic! What they've brought in is someone who's slightly different, somebody who's got good feet. That will ask a lot of questions of us."
As to the question of whether size matters, in this era of monster midfielders, De Jongh himself said: "Everyone's got their opinion on big and small. If people think I'm too small I've got a chance to show them this weekend that they're wrong. I've got a chance to prove myself.
"It's important for me to work hard and to make sure I've got all the attributes that I need in my game to be a Springbok. I've always wanted to be a Springbok and I've got a start this weekend. It's a big opportunity for me. I'll need to bring my A-game."
That A-game of instinctive, natural attacking rugby is sure to complement the tried and trusted kick, maul and grind that got the Springboks off the hook in the second half of their tour opener in Dublin a week ago.
Ireland tried the Munster wing Simon Zebo at full-back but were unable to hold on to a 12-3 half-time lead, eventually losing the game 16-12. So much, then, for the play Zebo effect.
"If you look at teams that play Ireland and are 12-3 down, not many come back and win against them," Robinson added. "I think that showed how much this South African team has improved – to come back and win that game, and in the manner they did.
"They won it through their kicking game and their ability to contest but most importantly they won it through their maul. That's an area where we've got to be able to stop them.
"They come Route One. They are prepared to run right over you, right through you. They've got an incredible maul – probably the best maul in world rugby."
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