Damian de Allende may well be a part of a marquee-signing package brought in to end Munster’s nine-season trophy drought, yet the South Africa centre has insisted owning a World Cup winner’s medal does not make him a star of the show.
The former Stormer joined Munster this summer alongside fellow Springbok RG Snyman, their signings a major statement of intent by a province determined to break the glass ceiling and start winning trophies again, the first test of which comes tomorrow night when Munster meet Leinster behind closed doors at Aviva Stadium in the Guinness PRO14 semi-finals.
Their World Cup-winning knowhow could, their fellow South African Johann van Graan believes, transform the Reds from nearly men stumbling over the final furlong into the trophy-laden thoroughbreds their predecessors of the 2000s once were.
Snyman’s serious knee injury quickly took the giant lock out of that equation, on the field at least, just seven minutes into his debut 12 days ago against Leinster, placing a lot more expectation on de Allende than the Cape Town native may have anticipated when he joined from the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan. Yet the 28-year-old, still fresh from his pivotal role in delivering the Webb Ellis Cup back to South Africans for the first time in 12 years, has a more straightforward and humble view of his new role, one devoid of any pressure or expectation perceived from outside.
“I’ve spoken to Johann quite a bit but it’s nothing about pressure, it’s more about enjoying myself,” de Allende said. “Obviously we won the World Cup but that doesn’t make me a better player than the other centres that are here.
“I think me coming here I can learn so much from Chris (Farrell), JJ (Hanrahan), from Rory (Scannell) and from Alex (McHenry) so it’s been very good. I think the biggest thing for me is just to know how to fit into the system and then I can start maybe giving back and trying to help out.
“I know I’ve won a World Cup but I can’t picture myself coming in and trying to change things to benefit me. I think it’s me who has to change and try and (integrate) into the system and then we can start working around from that.
“I’ve been helped out quite a bit, obviously learning all the new calls and stuff has been quite challenging but the guys have helped me quite nicely and surprisingly they haven’t got frustrated with me yet but it has gone a bit better over the past two weeks.”
Certainly judging by his first two outings, de Allende seems to be settling in just fine. While centre partner Farrell took the plaudits and the man of the match award in their first game together against Leinster, it was de Allende who shone eight days later in Munster’s rout of Connacht, the six defenders he beat proving the best return of the weekend of PRO14 games, while the Springbok-Ireland midfield axis looks to be blossoming.
“I won’t say we’re on the same page 100 per cent of the time,” he said of the partnership with Farrell. “I’m still trying to get to know the calls a bit better, trying to get to know our structures a bit better and it has been a bit better over the two weeks but I think we have a good feel for each other on the field. He understands when I need space and I understand when he needs space, the balance has been quite good at the moment.
“It’s not about me or him, it’s about what we do that benefits the team and I think the both of us understand that, although sometimes we’re going to have to sacrifice, where we might just be crash-ball runners and other times we’ll be out in space and be allowed to do all the fancy things but I think we have got the balance so far and hopefully we’ll get the balance right again on Friday night and just be a lot more consistent in that.”
What de Allende brings to the table aside from an on-field package of physicality and his ability to create time and space with clever footwork, handling skills and vision, is the experience of getting the job done in knockout rugby. It is an asset that will be cherished by Munster and asked to explain the key to it, he replied: “I would say just being decisive and not letting the occasion get to you.
“I think it might be a bit different now because even though it’s knockout footy there won’t be crowds so I don’t think there will be that added pressure of crowds screaming and shouting.
“We are playing at Aviva Stadium but luckily for us, they won’t have their own supporters cheering them on.
“I think you get a lot of momentum and energy from the home crowd so we’ll have to bring our own energy and spark our own energy on the field and hopefully our energy will be bigger and a bit more than theirs.”