Super Rugby

Dobson pleased with progress of flyhalf Willemse, urges patience in development

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Damian Willemse (Gallo)
Damian Willemse (Gallo)
  • Stormers coach John Dobson was pleased with the performance of flyhalf Damian Willemse this past weekend. 
  • Willemse continues to be accompanied by much hype and scrutiny as he looks to solidify his position as a specialist flyhalf. 
  • Dobson pointed to the fact that Willemse was still just 22-years-old but on the right track. 

The Stormers, victorious over the Lions in their opening fixture of Super Rugby Unlocked at Newlands on Saturday, were poor in numerous departments.

That much was acknowledged by head coach John Dobson and skipper Siya Kolisi after the match. 

The hosts emerged 23-17 winners, but a combination of handling errors, aimless kicking, poor set piece and an absence of any continuity or penetration on attack stood out. 

As Dobson admitted, that type of performance repeated throughout the season would guarantee that the Stormers will not challenge for title honours this year and it said a lot that the man-of-the-match on Saturday came from the losing team in the form of Burger Odendaal

One area that did satisfy Dobson, however, was the performance of his flyhalf Damian Willemse

Still just 22-years-old and already a World Cup winner, hype accompanies Willemse wherever he goes and much of that centres around how highly-rated he comes as an attacking playmaker. 

There are many critics and supporters who believe that Willemse is the future of Springbok rugby at No 10 and, at the Stormers, he has been backed in that position.

Two weekends ago at the Springbok Showdown at Newlands, however, Willemse endured somewhat of a nightmare performance that saw him kick poorly off the tee and out of hand while he was also yellow-carded for a poor piece of foul play. 

At Newlands on Saturday, Willemse endured a far stronger outing before he was shifted to fullback for the second half after wing Sergeal Petersen suffered an injury.

The changes at half-time saw Tim Swiel enter at flyhalf, Willemse drop to fullback and Warrick Gelant move across to the wing to replace Petersen.

Dobson said after the match that the disruption had been problematic, particularly in the case of Willemse who he felt had been putting together a solid display at No 10. 

"I'm actually a bit sorry that he moved because we really wanted to build an innings with him there (at flyhalf)," said Dobson.

"He was going really nicely at flyhalf. Credit to him, from where he was when he went through that horrible experience two weeks ago, to today was much better. I'm really pleased for him.

"I'm pleased with his progress. We had the territory really well sorted in the first half."

Dobson has often been vocal on the promise he has in his halfbacks Willemse and scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies, who he believes could become a Springbok pairing in the mould of former Wallaby greats Stephen Larkham and George Gregan. 

Jantjies, now 24, is also a World Cup winner and has impressed with his levels of maturity and game management in both Stormers and Springbok colours. 

Willemse, though, still has significant strides to make in those departments but Dobson on Saturday called for patience and emphasised that his pivot is very much on the right track. 

"Obviously there is still work to be done," said the coach. 

"The big thing is that game management is not something you can go get in the gym or overnight. It's a thing that comes with experience. It's a 22-year-old flyhalf who hasn't played a lot at flyhalf and has been moved around. Game management is not something you go down to Checkers to but ... it's being in the seat and making those decisions.

"I think we've seen growth already in the last little while and we'll keep going with that.

"We've got potential, like I've said before, that Herschel (Jantjies) and Damian become our Gregan and Larkham of South African rugby, but those guys were only dominating world rugby at 26 or 27.

"We've got to get him developed as much as we can and it's a coaching challenge and I certainly think we're making progress.

"From his side, there is no lack of will or hard work - physically or in terms of details."

Willemse will next be in action when the Stormers take on the Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday night.

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