Stormers to focus Willemse at centre and fullback

Damian Willemse will be utilised primarily at centre or fullback for the rest of the season as the Stormers look to give the talented back an opportunity to settle into a position. DYLAN JACK reports.

Willemse started at inside centre in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship match against Connacht in Galway and starred in tough conditions, despite the Stormers slipping to a 19-17 loss.

The 23-year-old’s versatility has been both a gift and a curse during his career so far, as he has been utilised across the backline and has fulfilled a utility back role for the Springboks, mostly off the bench.

However, as Willemse enters a crucial stage in his development, both the Stormers and Springboks are eager to see him settle in and master a position.

“The thing about Damian is that he is a great rugby player. You can play him on the wing, at centre or at fullback and he will perform,” Stormers backline coach Dawie Snyman said during a media conference on Monday.

“When we were at Connacht, we were lucky enough to have [Springbok assistant coach] Felix Jones with us. So, we are constantly in discussions with where they see Damian.

“We are also constantly talking to Damian in terms of where he feels his future lies. We don’t want Damian to become a player who plays all over the place. We want him to settle in a position. At this stage, he fulfils two roles for us: that’s the inside centre and fullback role. He can also cover 10 for us, but we really want to give him an opportunity so he can challenge for a No 1 spot in both of those positions and then he can step up to the Springboks.”

The question over how to best utilise Warrick Gelant and Willemse has been one that has permeated throughout the Stormers’ campaign.

The two have been rotated at fullback, with the other coming off the bench in the second half, but when fielding in the same starting lineup, it has been Willemse who has started at inside centre.

“On Warrick and Damian, you can look at it in two ways. It can be a problem or we can try and find solutions around it,” Snyman explained.

“Credit to both of them, they have been phenomenal with our approach as coaches. They trust our decisions. So, if we play Damian in a different position, he accepted it and took the challenge. When Warrick was on the bench,  you could see when we had the conversation about it, he wasn’t really happy because he is competitive and wants to put himself out there. But, coming off the bench, what he did against the Bulls and Sharks away was phenomenal.

“How we are managing it, is just to be honest with the players. We give them an indication of exactly how we see things. If there are different feelings from their side, it’s an open discussion. The team also understands where we are with Damian and Warrick.”

The Stormers next take on Zebre Parma in their first home game against overseas opposition in the URC. The game will be played at the Danie Craven Stadium in Stellenbosch on Sunday.

Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

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Dylan Jack