Damian Willemse’s impending short-term loan move to Premiership title-holders Saracens can only be a good thing for all parties involved, writes DYLAN JACK.
Willemse has been in negotiations to join Saracens on a short-term loan deal if, as expected, he fails in a last-ditch bid to make the Springboks’ 31-man squad for the upcoming World Cup in Japan.
While the expected reaction from South Africans is fear of losing yet another young product to an overseas club, this move will only work in everyone’s favour.
Willemse has had a bit of a stop-start season, hampered in June by a knee injury suffered while playing for the Stormers in Super Rugby. That has seen him unable to be involved in the Boks’ preparations for the World Cup, which, as Rassie Erasmus has hinted at, means that he is unlikely to make the World Cup squad.
It is easy to forget, but Willemse has been involved with the Stormers and Western Province for three years now, having made his Super Rugby debut aged 18 in his first year out of school. A move to England would introduce him to an all-new environment, very different to the one he has grown up in, and would be a bit of a breath of fresh air, especially given that the Saracens culture is different to that of Western Province.
Further, as Province coach John Dobson said during the week, Willemse would be working with some of the best coaches in the world at Saracens. Long-serving kicking coach Dan Vickers is very much the club’s unsung hero, having helped the team turn the boot into a weapon. Director of Rugby Mark McCall is one of the finest minds in rugby today. Working with both can only benefit Willemse, who at 21 understandably still has a few rough edges to iron out.
Willemse would also have the opportunity to be mentored by the likes of Alex Goode and Alex Lozowski. Goode was one of the players of the season in both Europe and England and, much like Willemse, is expected to switch between flyhalf and fullback depending on Owen Farrell’s availability.
Speaking of Farrell, his World Cup-enforced absence means that Saracens also get something out of the deal. The London club would be getting a young player who is, according to Dobson, ‘a deep thinker of the game and about life’. Not only would Willemse add a bit of depth to Saracens’ stocks during the initial part of their campaign, but he would eager to impress and keen to learn as much as he can in his short stay in England’s capital.
As for the Boks, while they will suffer a bit of short-term pain by having one of their prime youngsters unavailable for the tournament, the national team will undoubtedly reap a long-term gain. Willemse should return as a player far better when it comes to putting boot to ball and with an improved tactical understanding of the game. With Handre Pollard’s status for next year’s Test rugby matches unknown as he has joined Montpellier, it can only serve the Boks best to let Willemse have this experience.
One also has to keep in mind that even if Willemse was selected to fly out to Japan, at most he would pick up minutes against Tier Two nations at fullback. If he doesn’t get selected and didn’t have this move, he would be left with a potential two Currie Cup playoff matches as his remaining games of rugby for the year.
When compared to the valuable knowledge he could gain at Saracens, it doesn’t really stack up.
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