The latest trend, moving world class wings to centre, has also taken hold of the Stormers – with 2007 World Cup-winner Bryan Habana making the big move.
Habana, the 74-Test veteran, was named at No.13 – alongside fellow Bok Jean de Villiers – in the Stormers team to play the Eastern Province Kings in a Super Rugby warm-up Port Elizabeth.
While some pundits will frown upon the move, given that Habana has made only one Test appearance at centre and the rest on the left wing, both Stormers coach Allister Coetzee and captain of the day Jean de Villiers feel he has all the qualities to be a top-class midfielder.
Coetzee pointed out that Habana started his Currie Cup career as a centre, even though he was a scrumhalf when he played junior rugby for the Lions more than a decade ago. He was moved to centre, where he was a standout performer for the Lions in 2004, before making his Bok debut on the wing against England in November that year.
The Stormers coach said the decision is “long-term”, with De Villiers and fellow Bok Juan de Jongh still the preferred midfield combination.
“He [Habana] will be covering at No.13 for us this season,” Coetzee said on Wednesday, adding that it is “just one channel in” from the normal position for the 28-year-old flyer.
“Bryan is very efficient in terms of defence and No.13 is a major thing for us,” Coetzee said, adding: “He is an experienced player, he knows our systems.
“With Jean there [at No.12] we have two experienced Springboks in the midfield.
“I am comfortable with Bryan at No.13. If you look at what we had [in Jaque Fourie] he is the right guy at No.13.
“I have no doubt in my mind that Bryan can become a good No.13,” the coach said, adding that Habana is “really excited” about the challenge.
All the qualities needed
De Villiers also spoke about the qualities of Habana as a player and his prospects as a centre.
“He [Habana] has all the qualities to be a great No.13,” De Villiers said about his new midfield partner.
Both Coetzee and De Villiers said Habana is still the fastest player in the Stormers squad.
“The work that Jaque Fourie did, the great decision-making on defence, takes some doing. However, there is a trend at the moment to move wings to centre,” De Villiers said.
Coetzee said that Jaque Fourie set a very high standard and one of his main attributes was his organisational ability on defence.
“That is also a strength of Bryan, the way he will run and organise the defence,” Coetzee said, adding: “Bryan also has an eye for a gap, he runs good lines.
“It is just good to have that back-up plan going into the competition.”
De Villiers – who made his Bok debut as an outside centre in 2002, then played several Tests on the left wing and eventually settled at inside centre – spoke about both the advantages and pitfalls of being so versatile.
“It helps,” he said about being an utility player, adding: “With the makeup of the team it strengthens your bench when you have players that can cover more than one position.
“However, you also don’t want the situation where you become a Ruan [Pienaar], or a Frans [Steyn] – that you play so well in some of those positions that they just swing you around all the time.
“That is why at some stage in my career I decided to give No.12 a go. You have to live with that situation if you are not No.1 in that position.”
He said that when fellow Bok Juan de Jongh returns from injury they will look to swap around as well – with De Villiers featuring at outside centre, even though he would start at inside and Jongh taking some plays at No.12.
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