Stormers coach Robbie Fleck will have no problem backing young Damian Willemse to start at flyhalf in Saturday’s high-pressured quarter-final against the Chiefs, writes CRAIG LEWIS for SARugbyMag
The Stormers have opted to start the 19-year-old in their last three games, with Willemse having made his Super Rugby run-on debut against the Cheetahs after returning from duty at the World Rugby U20 Championship last month.
As it is, the highly-regarded youngster is seen as the future at flyhalf for the Stormers, with Brandon Thomson heading to the Glasgow Warriors, while Robert du Preez has been strongly linked with a move back to the Sharks.
In recent weeks, Willemse has displayed plenty of encouraging signs, particularly on attack, which has served to vindicate his selection.
And although this Saturday’s quarter-final against the Chiefs is sure to present his greatest challenge yet, Fleck insisted at a press conference at the team’s high-performance base on Monday that they had no doubts about Willemse’s ability to rise to the occasion.
‘I think he’s been outstanding, he’s brought a different dynamic to our attack. He brings a lot of energy and he’s a tough character who gets stuck in. So we’ve got no problem selecting him against the Chiefs, it doesn’t matter what his age is, the boy is performing, and we need to keep backing him.’
One area where Willemse has battled for consistency has been with his goal-kicking, which has seen him miss five out of 13 shots at goal.
Nevertheless, Fleck said they believed he would continue to grow into this role as a frontline goal-kicker, while suggesting there were enough backup kicking options if needed.
‘We believe in him [Willemse], he has huge belief in himself and the players enjoy playing with him. When it comes to the goal-kicking duties, SP [Marais] is back, so that might play a role in the selection, while Cheslin [Kolbe] did a good job when he had to kick against the Cheetahs.
‘We want to take the pressure off Damian, his goal-kicking is part of his growth in terms of where he’s going and we do like to have a flyhalf who has the kicking duties, but we’ll make the right decision going forward. Looking at his general play and his abilities, there’s no doubt around him.’
As Fleck alluded to, Marais’ return to fitness does provide an interesting selection quandary this week, with Dillyn Leyds having impressed in his absence at fullback.
Of course, Leyds could move back to the wing in order to accommodate Marais, but this would be likely to result in Seabelo Senatla dropping out of the starting lineup at a time when the Blitzboks star has just begun to find some form.
‘We do have an interesting selection consideration,’ Fleck commented. ‘SP has had an excellent season at the back. His boot makes a big difference, and his decision-making has been very good all-year round. But Dillyn has been absolutely outstanding in the last couple of games, especially on the counter-attack, and he’s also made good decisions.
‘It’s a good headache to have, while we have to also consider that Seabelo has come into form of late. His speed does have an impact on the way we want to play, but we’ll look at the combinations that will suit what we want to do and provide the best opportunities on attack or with the kicking game.’
Fleck added that there were no new injury worries after this past weekend’s clash against the Bulls, while confirming that Rynhardt Elstadt, Wilco Louw, Ali Vermaak, Oli Kebble and Kobus van Dyk would be available for selection.