Words: Chris Hewitt
De Wet Barry will wear 13, but there is no superstitious anxiety. Barry plays the way he lives – there is no contradiction and fewer complications. Face value judgements have resulted in conclusions such as ‘crash-baller’ and ‘one-dimensional’, but Barry shrugs them off in the manner he breaks the tackle.
‘People can say what they like,’ he smiles. ‘I can’t change perception, so why worry about it?’
He could highlight the fact that in 872 minutes of Vodacom Super 12 rugby last year, he made 22 line breaks and 28 good offloads. He could haul out match reports from when he single-handedly destroyed the Lions after returning to the blue and white in the Absa Currie Cup. He could point to the unanimous backing of his team-mates in the recent vote for Vodacom Stormers captain. But he doesn’t.
With Barry, there is never much need to say anything. His performances on the field say more than he ever could.
‘De Wet is a truly great player,’ coach Kobus van der Merwe enthuses. ‘His obvious strengths are target-setting, defence and his ability to compete on the ground, but he brings so much more to the party than that. He is the talisman of our side and has shown just how versatile he is by adapting brilliantly to his new role as outside centre.’
Barry’s shift to 13 to accommodate playmaker Jean de Villiers in his preferred position of inside centre is an insightful move by Van der Merwe and his coaching staff, but their faith would not be possible were it not for Barry’s flexibility and ability to adapt – qualities that are the very contradiction of the labels some seek so eagerly to attach.
‘Playing 13 is a big challenge for me, but one I looked forward to and enjoyed thoroughly last weekend. The only consideration must always be the team, and I think that this way we are utilising our strengths as a backline in the best possible way.’
While Barry remains in the midfield, his role differs markedly from the one he has become so accustomed to.
‘It is very different to playing inside centre, and I do have a little more space and time. It’s also very different on defence, a little tougher actually, and the running lines are different. I must say, though, that I’m enjoying adapting. I played 13 earlier in my career and it’s a nice change.’
Barry’s switch of position coincides with his emergence as Vodacom Stormers captain, responsibility he predictably welcomes.
‘I enjoy the responsibility, and the fact that I lead the guys out is something that I enjoy. I must say, throughout my career, I’ve never aspired to captaincy, but have grabbed at the opportunity when it has presented itself to me. Needless to say, it’s a tremendous honour.’
The Vodacom Stormers squad has a number of youngsters high on potential but low on experience, and the role of senior players such as Barry will be vital in ensuring the lofty targets set by Van der Merwe and his team are met.
‘There is a lot of emphasis on the senior players this year. We know we have to stand up. Werner Greeff is playing a huge role bringing through our young wingers in the back three. His guidance and leadership from fullback is invaluable. The other leaders in the team are also contributing massively.
‘I must say that I’m very excited about this year. I think we have the mix right in the squad, and the way the guys trained in pre-season indicated just how committed we are to improving on last year’s results. The dedicated work ethic of everybody involved in the squad gives me a lot of confidence for this year.’
After last week’s victory over the Cats, Barry knows that two from two will place the Vodacom Stormers in a strong position early – a situation he acknowledges as vital.
‘It’s really important to start well in this competition. Tonight is the first of five games in a row at home, and we really have a great opportunity to get ourselves in the position where we can challenge for a semi-final spot.’
The Waratahs represent a massive challenge. After reaching the final last year, they are justifiably regarded as one of the early favourites for the extended Vodacom Super 14.
Barry identifies the exchanges up front as crucial to victory. ‘The Waratahs have a very strong pack, and are particularly good at competing in the line-outs. I’m not too worried, though. I really think our tight five are going to surprise a lot of people this year.
‘Everyone has been shooting the boys down, and now they have the chance to prove themselves. They are fine players and I don’t think we have to stand back for anyone in the competition.’
As a veteran of more than 50 Vodacom Super 12 appearances, Barry is in the perfect position to voice exactly what is required for a South African side to conquer what is regarded as rugby’s toughest competition.
‘A major focus for us this year is making life as difficult as possible for the teams coming here. They have a week longer over here now, so it will be interesting to see how they go.
‘There needs to be a shift from the preoccupation with local derbies. Traditionally, the intensity is always raised when two South African teams play, and we need to shift that to when we take on overseas opposition. Today we play our first overseas team, and it’s vital we start well. The rugby is close to Test standard, so it is certainly no easy task, but we have both the belief and the ability to win today. And I think that could prove vital in the context of our season.’
The above article was first printed in “Don’t Blink” the Official Match Magazine of the Vodacom Stormers. Read all about Luke Watson and Schalk Burger in this weekends match magazine – which will be on sale at Newlands Rugby Stadium for only R10 this Friday.