Super Rugby

De Allende winning the psychological battle




Springbok and Stormers centre Damian de Allende is gradually returning to form after making his return to playing Super Rugby.

The twenty-four-year-old centre’s biggest obstacle has been the psychological battle on and off the field that he has had to learn to master.

The abrasive 24-year-old centre, who has shrugged off his fair share of tackles and scythed through plenty of defensive lines, faced a challenge of a different kind when he was sidelined by injury for four long months.

While there is no question about De Allende’s physical toughness, it’s the psychological aspect of recovering from an injury that posed the biggest test for the talented young player at this early stage of his career.

According to Stormers strength and conditioning coach Steph du Toit, the mental challenge is every bit as hard as the physical rehabilitation in the return to fitness.

“The toughest thing about an injury is the mental capacity it takes to overcome it,” said du Toit.

“The time it takes for you get through rehab and to regain your confidence is not an immediate process.”

“We have a sports psychologist, Dr Henning Gericke, who does a lot of one-on-one work,” he said.

“He was with the Springboks when they won the 2007 World Cup, so having an experienced voice like that will give a player more confidence than someone who is young in the job and might not have too many credentials.

“I think the trust between rehab specialist and player is key.”

De Allende injured his ankle while playing rugby for the Kintetsu Liners in Japan, after a superb 2015 season for both the Stormers and the Springboks. His injury put the brakes on the ever-improving form that earned him the SA Rugby Player of the Year nomination last year.

“I took a short ball off nine and their scrumhalf tackled my legs,” said De Allende on the Stormers site.

“(The scrumhalf) fell on my right ankle and my lateral ligament snapped. I was flown back to South Africa for an operation.

“I basically had to strengthen my leg again, because when you have an injury like that you lose a lot of muscle around your calf, hamstrings and quad.

“You don’t want to run straight away because you’ll be imbalanced, so it’s quite a long process, but it’s all worth it.”

Whether its De Allende’s own mental grit, his support structure or his work with Gericke, or a combination of all these factors, the young midfielder made the conscious decision to rise above his setback and adopt a positive outlook.

“I think getting injured at that time helped me a bit in my career, just to get my mind away from rugby and enjoy myself off the field,” he said.

“I felt I needed a break, but the stint in Japan also helped me. Although I was playing week in and week out there, I think the change in scenery and culture helped a lot.”

His form has been questioned since his return to Super Rugby action off the bench against the Sunwolves in the first week of April, and indeed, he has been off the pace at times, but he is showing more glimpses of last year’s form with every outing.

“I’m feeling good,” he said. “I’ve been working hard on my fitness, but it’s still a struggle to push for the full 80 minutes.

“But I have a better understanding of Super Rugby than I used to, so I know where and when to add value in the game.”

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