Damian Willemse, at just age 20 is already a definitive part of Rassie Erasmus’ plans in building toward the World Cup next year. But not necessarily in his preferred position.
Schooled as a ten and subsequently playing all age grade levels at flyhallf, the Rugby Championship could see Damian Willemse’s international career birthed as a fullback.
While he was a highlight at flyhallf in an unremarkable Stormers 2018 season, Willemse has been given experience at 15 for the franchise, and Bok coach Rassie Erasmus believes it is where he is best fitted at this juncture.
With the 2019 Rugby World Cup in mind, Erasmus does not intend on displacing the incumbent flyhalves in Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies.
“No flyhalf under the age of 24 has ever won a World Cup,” Erasmus told reporters on Monday. “The number 10 is your quarterback. He is the guy who has to take control. At this point it may be a better idea to play Damian at 15 (fullback) where there is less pressure.
“He is physically ready for test rugby, even at the age of 20. He will get his chance against Argentina.”
The willingness to blood Willemse at fullback is mature and measured, not only in the sense that his positional pressure coming into test rugby will have been alleviated, but the fact that his style of play is a perfect replacement for currently injured fullback Warrick Gelant.
If Erasmus is to experiment with Willemse at fullback, not only does he build further Springbok depth (in the player himself), but further positional depth too as Willemse could then offer a utility role come the World Cup.