Damian Willemse will receive game time at fullback in the Rugby Championship, while the out-of-form Elton Jantjies will remain the Springboks’ second-choice flyhalf. JON CARDINELLI reports from Stellenbosch.
Earlier this year, Bok coach Rassie Erasmus spoke about his long-term plan for Willemse. Erasmus felt that the Stormers flyhalf needed another run in the World Rugby U20 Championship before making the step up to the senior side.
At the time, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said that he was considering Willemse as a fullback option for the latter stages of the Super Rugby tournament. Fleck’s plans were scuppered, however, after the 20-year-old sustained an injury at the junior tournament in France.
On Monday, Willemse was named in the Boks’ Rugby Championship squad. Erasmus made it clear that while the youngster offered the team options at 10, 12 and 15, he was most likely to make his Test debut at fullback in the coming weeks. The Boks will face Argentina in the first two rounds of the tournament.
This won’t come as surprise when one remembers that Warrick Gelant – Willie le Roux’s understudy in the three-Test series against England – is unavailable due to injury. Erasmus feels that Willemse, at this stage, may be better suited to the fullback role. Handré Pollard and Jantjies will remain the first- and second-choice flyhalf options respectively.
‘We’ve seen the way Damian played for the Stormers this season. He is physically ready for Test rugby, even at the age of 20,’ said Erasmus.
‘He reminds me of Frans Steyn, a guy who is ready to play Test rugby from a very young age. He will get his chance against Argentina [over the next two matches].
‘No flyhalf under the age of 24 has ever won a World Cup,’ Erasmus added, suggesting that Willemse is part of his plans for the 2019 tournament, albeit not in the position of flyhalf.
‘The No 10 is your quarterback. He is the guy who has to take control. At this point, though, it may be a better idea to play Damian at 15 where there is less pressure.’
Jantjies was poor for the Boks in the third Test against England this June. The Lions pivot made some costly errors against the Crusaders in the recent Super Rugby final.
Erasmus, however, feels that Jantjies is the best alternative to Pollard at this stage. Pat Lambie, who is still on Erasmus’ radar, will be sidelined with injury until February next year.
‘There’s no doubt about Elton’s talent,’ said Erasmus. ‘We must find a way to get him back to his best at the highest level.
‘Elton is the obvious choice at No 10 if Pollard goes down with an injury. Sure, he’s had a few hiccups. I’m not trying to defend him, but you must remember that he has played a lot of rugby over the past few years without a break.’
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