Johannesburg - South Africa’s flyhalf stocks may be questionable in terms of consistency at the moment, but the emergence of Damian Willemse as a credible option for Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has added a new dimension to the debate for the Rugby World Cup.
While Erasmus has Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies to rely on, further than that there is the injury-prone talent of Pat Lambie and Frans Steyn’s up and down situation, while Robert du Preez is probably the only other option but with seven minutes of nightmare rugby experience. Curwin Bosch has disappeared as the Sharks have forgotten him it seems, according to supersport.com website.
Which leaves Willemse, the 52nd Springbok from Paul Roos and the brightest star of the Springbok rugby future. At 19, a talent that has been blooded against Argentina and who when he arrived at the press conference showed no signs of his age, inexperience or the nervousness normally associated with youngsters on this stage.
And the reason is clear. Willemse, who was plucked because of his talent and given a bursary to attend the prestigious school, knows all about taking the chances presented to you and this is certainly one he isn’t likely to let slip away.
Learn, take it in, soak up as much as you can and shake it up into something that you can use to grow. This seems to be the mantra Willemse is following, and if the rest of his career is anything to go by, it will be a recipe for success with this sort of maturity.
“Well I mean, first of all, I think always for a young guy stepping up, it is important to outwork and outlearn others,” he said after the game this past weekend.
“So that is what I am trying to do. Learn from other players, shake it up and throw it all in one basket and see what I come up with. That is what I am trying to do.
“Outwork and outlearn them, and that is something I have to do as a young flyhalf, learn and come through the ranks, guiding the team. You need a mature flyhalf, a good quarterback. That maturity is very important.”
And even though one of his first touches resulted in an intercept try to Argentina, Willemse has already learnt that it is a case of shrugging shoulders and moving on.
“These type of things happen. It is fixable. I am just glad I got a run. These things happen and it is fixable. It is no big sweat for me but obviously not the ideal start I wanted and the team wanted. But I’m just glad I got the gap.”
And the cool head on his shoulders was there for everyone to see as he calmly spoke about his “work-ons” and where he needs to improve as a player.
“Well for me it is simple. I wake up tomorrow morning, the sun is going to shine and I just need to keep on working hard. As I said I made a couple of mistakes and as soon as I can get to the drawing board and work on that, just stay in the moment and let the main thing stay the main thing,” he added.
“For me as a flyhalf it is always important to keep sharp. I feel like my kicking game needs a lot of work and definitely my defence. That is something we saw, Argentina bring those big ball carriers down my channel, so that is something I’m always trying to work on.
“But ja there are a lot of areas that I can still try and learn my game on and definitely I will go back tomorrow and have a look at the game and see where I can improve.”
Willemse said he never thought he would be in the Green and Gold at such a young age but now that he is he wants to stay.
“It is quite difficult. I didn’t think I would be sitting here at the age of 20, and relieved that I could. But yeah sitting here brings mixed emotions. I am really happy that we got the result we wanted and it is a massive honour and privilege to have worn the Springbok jersey.
“There have been a lot of Springboks that have came and went and that is not part of my plan. That is not part of where we want to be. We want to be great Springboks, not just a game in a Springbok jersey and then left. Obviously there is a plan and we are working towards that plan.”
He praised fellow Boks Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies for the way they guided him in the Bok camp.
“Handre and Elton have been really instrumental this week. Handre is always helping me with the plays and the finer detail. Telling me where to look and what to look for after certain phases of the game and Elton, he is just keeping me calm through the week.
“A guy like Willie (Le Roux) as well at fullback and I am just milking all the information I can from guys like that. I am grateful for coach Rassie (Erasmus) for having guys like them in the group and that is just going to make the team so much better. It’s great to have players like them.”
And with the maturity what is needed now is experience, and if he gets that and the space to grow, it can only benefit SA Rugby for the future.