CRAIG LEWIS and DYLAN JACK debate which position Springbok and Stormers back Damian Willemse should settle in going forward?
DYLAN JACK SAYS FULLBACK
It is interesting that Damian Willemse started at fullback during the preparation series, while coach John Dobson has tested his options at flyhalf, fielding Kade Wolhuter and Abner van Reenen in the No 10 jersey.
Having signed a three-year extension to his contract with WP Rugby, Willemse looked a renewed force during the pre-season and offered plenty of threat when he came into the line as a second playmaker. That should be his role as the Stormers progress into the Rainbow Cup and then the expanded Pro16.
Of course, that would prompt questions of what to do with someone like Springbok fullback Warrick Gelant. My suggestion would be to field Gelant in a new role at outside centre where, apart from Ruhan Nel, the Stormers lack experienced depth.
Having been at the Stormers for his entire professional career, it is also about time 22-year-old Van Reenen got a proper run to stake his claim for the Stormers No 10 jersey. Between Van Reenen, Wolhuter and Tim Swiel, the Stormers have enough quality at flyhalf to allow Willemse to continue his growth at fullback, where he would have more space and time to execute those trademark sidesteps and runs.
I have previously been keen to allow Willemse to grow at flyhalf, but perhaps the time has come to end that experiment and get him to focus at fullback.
A backline with Van Reenen at 10, Gelant at 13 and Willemse at fullback would not only give the Stormers defensive solidity, but would also give them three different kicking options. This will be vital in a tournament that emphasises the importance of tactical play.
Recently, John Dobson described Willemse as the ultimate ‘team man’ who was willing to play at 10, 12 or 15, but the Stormers coach also hinted that fullback was where his future lay.
‘I think he’s settling at 15 and knowing where he’s playing for the next few years is a good cocktail for him. You can see the difference and I’m excited for him.’
CRAIG LEWIS SAYS INSIDE CENTRE
This is a left-field suggestion, especially considering Willemse has predominantly switched between flyhalf and fullback, but I’d love to see the 22-year-old get an extended run at inside centre.
Standing at 1.83m and weighing in around 90kg, he has some size on his side to complement his natural speed and side-stepping skills.
For some time, there seemed to be a plan for Willemse to settle at flyhalf, but more recently it appeared as if he would specialise at fullback. There can be no complaints about that, and my colleague Dylan Jack makes a good argument for him to make the No 15 jersey his own. However, there can be little doubt that Willemse also boasts the attributes that could make him a great success at centre.
A lot of the talk around Willemse shifting to fullback seems to revolve around a desire for him to find a better balance to his play, whereby individual creativity is counterbalanced by sound decision-making on whether to kick, run or distribute.
After committing to WP Rugby, he does seem to be enjoying the clarity of his future, and there is every reason to believe he will only get better and better as he matures as a player.
Yet, when one looks at the physical attributes the youngster boasts, as well as his natural playmaking ability, it would be highly compelling to see what he could offer in the midfield. With direction coming from the halfback pairing, the youngster would have less pressure on his shoulders, and the ability to operate as a ‘second receiver’.
There would also be less pressure on Willemse’s kicking game, and more freedom to make an impact as a player who has the physicality to take the ball to the line, but also enough mobility to keep defenders on their toes. I’m not suggesting he has to move to 12 right now, but in years to come it could translate to a fantastic positional transition.
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images