Stormers coach John Dobson says he is more concerned over finding game time for Jean-Luc du Plessis than Damian Willemse’s form.
The Stormers are aiming to make it a perfect start to the 2020 Vodacom Super Rugby season as they target their fifth consecutive win against the Blues at Newlands on Saturday.
While they have won their opening four matches – the latest against the Jaguares at home – there have been small improvements that could be made in terms of their on-field performances, especially on attack where they struggled to build phases against the Vodacom Bulls and Lions.
Dobson was far happier with that aspect after the win against the Jaguares as the Stormers did a far better job of keeping the ball and building pressure, but there was still a lack of incisiveness in that game, especially in the first half where the home side enjoyed a plethora of try-scoring opportunities.
It is notable that Du Plessis, who has come back to fitness after a injury-marred 2019, had a positive impact on the game when he came on against the Lions and Jaguares.
When asked whether Willemse was perhaps trying too hard to get the Stormers on the front foot, Dobson said it was part of his physical approach to the game.
‘It certainly is not the other way round, it certainly isn’t because he does not care,’ Dobson said. ‘He probably overdoes it and probably beats himself up a bit too much.
‘He is not the paradigm of a mercurial flyhalf who does not train hard, who has a good step and offload and who is not physical. He can be overly physical sometimes. When you look at a flyhalf like Demitri Catrakilis, he is never on the ground. Damian is getting tackled five or six times a game, which is part of our team’s attack. I think we need to be better there and alternate with [fullback] Dillyn [Leyds] at first receiver.
‘Last year, he had to and wanted to concentrate on playing at 15. I am not too fussed about him, because of the work ethic he has.
‘The bigger problem is that Jean-Luc has made a difference every time he has come on. That is a bigger pressure point than any doubts I have over Damian. Jean-Luc is showing much more composure, last week against the Lions he was stellar. But I have no doubt about Gaza.’
It is not only at flyhalf where Dobson faces a bit of a conundrum. With Dan du Plessis back in full training with the team this week and young Rikus Pretorius waiting in the wings, Dobson will have to find a way to rotate his midfield as Jamie Roberts and Ruhan Nel have formed the partnership in the opening fixtures.
Meanwhile, Bongi Mbonambi is potentially out for the season, so there is a lack of experienced depth at hooker, while Godlen Masimla and Paul de Wet will both need opportunities to prove their capabilities to step in for star scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies.
Dobson said there could be more opportunities for players after their bye next week.
‘We have always viewed this season in terms of four phases. One was now, where we weren’t going to change too much and try and get a run, with five games at home. The next one we have got a bye and a vital game against the Sharks, which should be a cracker. But then we have the Jaguares and Waratahs, and will try to create some more opportunities there. Then we go on tour and hopefully, we can come back with two weeks until playoffs.
‘We have used 26 players so far this season, which is a good reflection on our medical management. But we have got to prepare an extra hooker, we have to prepare an extra scrumhalf, we have to give Jean-Luc some time. It is crazy. Rikus Pretorius is one of the future stars of South African rugby, we have to.’
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