Coach John Dobson spoke passionately about Damian Willemse as the playmaker is set to make his 50th appearance for the Stormers when they take on Zebre at the Danie Craven Stadium on Sunday. DYLAN JACK reports.
Willemse will reach the milestone on the same day the Stormers host European opposition for the first time in the inaugural Vodacom United Rugby Championship.
Still just 23 years old, Willemse was 18 when he made his senior debut for the Stormers in the 2017 Super Rugby season.
During a media conference on Wednesday, Dobson was emphatic about Willemse’s depth not only as a rugby player but as a person away from the field.
“In 2017, when he made his Currie Cup debut, we went to the Kimberley mine museum. You could pay R40 to find out a bit more about the miners. It was right near the Big Hole. The only player who did that was Damian Willemse,” Dobson said.
“He was reading a 700-page book about World War II and Hitler in 2017. If there is any charitable cause, any player’s birthday … let alone what he put in on the training and playing field, he is probably one of the most special people I have had the chance to work with.
“Anybody who doubts Damian Willemse, I would tell them to meet him or watch him closely on the rugby field or watch him in training. We are extremely proud of where he is. I think there is a question, which is valid, why would other unions come so hard to get him? Then you have to ask another question. Why would Damian Willemse turn them down? It’s not a reflection on us. It’s a reflection of what his passion is and his belief in rugby in this region.
“He grew up here in the hard lands of Strand. He has done incredibly well, so I am proud of his 50th game.”
Willemse and Dobson have both worked closely together since the former made his Currie Cup debut for Dobson’s Western Province team in 2017.
“It’s obviously something every player here strives towards, to play 50 games for the Stormers. It’s quite a big thing. I am just fortunate enough that the coaches have just backed me for the last three or four years,” Willemse said. “I am looking forward to Sunday, but it’s not about me.
“I wouldn’t say I am a senior player, but I have some good memories over the years. I have played with amazing players and worked with amazing coaches, especially with coach John. We have been working together since the 2017 Currie Cup. It’s been a long time coming and it just feels like time has flown.”
Willemse has rotated between fullback, flyhalf and centre throughout his professional career, most recently being used in the No 12 and No 15 jerseys.
There is a concern that not settling in a single position could have a negative impact on Willemse’s development, but he is embracing his identity as a utility back.
“At the Springboks, I am considered a utility back. Especially for me now, I can play multiple positions. Sometimes our gameplan and the personnel in the squad will change and I am lucky enough to be able to cover more than two positions.
“That’s my role and being able to play more than two positions is a benefit for us as a team. I wouldn’t say it’s about settling in one position. Now with the team, I have been playing 12 and 15. For me, there’s no such thing as playing one position. I can cover multiple positions and am happy to play that role. It’s been going really well so far.”
Photo: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images