Ashwin Willemse may miss the rest of the season after tearing ligaments in his knee in the 36-8 Vodacom Super 14 loss to the Sharks on Saturday.
It was the third time in less than three years that the former SA Rugby Player of the Year had seriously injured the knee. Although it is too early to tell, the latest setback may signal the end of his rugby career. A full assessment will be made on Monday.
Willemse was making his comeback at Super Rugby level in the match and had fared well in a losing effort for the home side. The right wing had hoped to get through 80 minutes of rugby before kick-off and he came within three minutes of achieving that elusive goal.
The Springbok flyer was stretchered from the field after 77 minutes in tears as the gravity of the latest injury sank in.
“He has torn the ligaments in his knee quite badly,” said Cats coach Frans Ludeke afterwards. “It doesn’t look good at all,” said a crestfallen coach.
Willemse had come through a Vodacom Cup match for the Lions last weekend and looked a class above from the outset against the Sharks. While he was clearly rusty, his desire to be back at this level was evident with several incisive breaks.
Willemse has played very little rugby the past twelve months. He missed the complete Super 12 in 2005 and played only half a game against the Stormers before he was pulled off at half-time.
This was after he had suffered a cruel double injury in the Springbok warm-up match against the Central Unions in Kimberley in 2004.
Highly rated by Springbok coach Jake White, a fit Willemse was almost assured of playing in White’s 2007 Rugby World Cup squad, but the latest blow could have ended that dream.
By Andrew Hollely