Munster’s prospects in the United Rugby Championship play-offs are hitched to powerhouse Springbok centre Damian de Allende.
A chest complaint meant De Allende missed the 35-25 defeat at Leinster in the league’s final round, a result that dropped Munster to sixth place in the final standings and lined them up for a quarter-final against Ulster in Belfast on Friday.
This season, De Allende scored a try in three of five starts in the league, a try-count bettered only by five other players at the Irish province despite the mighty midfielder appearing in just seven matches.
Aside from the player himself, none will be more disappointed with De Allende’s injury-interrupted campaign than coach Johann van Graan.
The former Springbok assistant coach has at times during his final season at the province been criticised for Munster’s conservative style of play. Van Graan clearly favours the brand of simple and effective rugby used by world champions South Africa, but his plan pivots on mainstays that have been unavailable.
Munster legend CJ Stander, who had come through the Bulls ranks during Van Graan’s time at Loftus Versfeld, retired at the end of last season after 156 matches for the Irish province. A three-time winner of Munster’s Player of the Year award, Stander added grunt to the pack and horsepower in the race for momentum.
Breakout Bulls lock RG Snyman joined Munster in 2020 and promised to fire up the tight five, but the towering 2019 Rugby World Cup champion has been a fixture of the injury report ever since.
And De Allende’s farewell season in Munster has also been disrupted as the Bok No 12 was sidelined for two months with an abdominal injury earlier this year.
One of the game’s most commanding midfielders, De Allende is a big cog in Van Graan’s plan to go out with a bang. He was equally as imperative a component in the success of South Africa against the British & Irish Lions last year, his sturdy legs consistently propelling him through contact to keep the world champions going forward.
Going into the quarter-final against Ulster, De Allende, Van Graan and Munster will have perfectly aligned goals. A third successive win against their Irish rivals would fortify Munster’s standing and create the opportunity to avenge their agonising Champions Cup quarter-final when they lost on a penalty shoot out to Toulouse after the sides were level 24-all after 100 minutes.
For De Allende, bossing the midfield in the URC play-offs would make for a heroic send-off from Munster and redeem his world-class reputation as South Africa prepare to begin their final approach to the 2023 Rugby World Cup.