Cape Town - Stormers coach Robbie Fleck faces an interesting dilemma at flyhalf as he prepares to name his team for Saturday’s Super Rugby derby showdown with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Robert du Preez will remain out for a while yet as he recovers from the injury he sustained playing against the Hurricanes in New Zealand in May, and anyway it is likely that Du Preez will be heading to Durban at the end of the season to play for his father, also Robert, at the Sharks. Jean-luc du Plessis has undergone a series of hip operations and faces a long recovery period before he returns to action, if indeed he does.
The absence of the two flyhalves who were first choices at the start of the season was covered by Fleck moving Dillyn Leyds to No 10 for the match against the Blues, and Kurt Coleman then took over the pivot position when the Stormers went to Kings Park for the final game before the June break. Coleman was one of several players who was poor in that game, but then it needs to be remembered that he had just come back from injury and would have been rusty and perhaps down on confidence.
Coleman has had a chance to play for John Dobson’s winning Western Province team in the Supersport Challenge in the interim, and may be sharper and more ready to play now than he was a month ago.
Then there is Brandon Thomson, the former national age-group flyhalf who hasn’t let the Stormers down when he has come onto the field as a replacement. He brought some shape to the Stormers game in the crucial last quarter of the game against the Blues, which was effectively when they pushed for their victory in that match, and is worth more than cursory consideration from Fleck.
However, when Fleck was considering his options for the Blues and Sharks game he did not have the prodigiously talented young Damian Willemse available. Willemse was at the time unavailable due to his commitments to the South African under-20 team, for whom he played mostly at inside centre at the Junior World Championships in Georgia.
Last year’s South African Schools flyhalf is seen as the flyhalf future by the Stormers coaches, which may be one of the reasons that Du Preez is considering a move back to Durban, where he learned his rugby. It is always been a question of not if the Stormers will blood Willemse at No 10, but when.
If Du Preez was available it would not be this season, as Fleck would like to see Willemse get a good run for WP at Currie Cup level under his belt to prepare him for next year’s Super Rugby campaign. However the youngster has produced some brilliant flashes during his cameo appearances as a Stormers replacement in Super Rugby, and after getting an international junior tournament onto his lists of experiences, now be a good time for Fleck to give Willemse a chance.
Perhaps a home game against the Sunwolves is a better opportunity, so we will have to wait until Thursday’s team announcement, but Fleck did hint that it was a possibility when he discussed his flyhalf options earlier in the week. And he has never made any secret that he considers Willemse to be an extraordinarily gifted player.
Although the Stormers want to win the Bloemfontein game so that they can pick up some momentum as they head to the play-offs, this might be a good time for Fleck to try something new as the Cape side’s progress to the qualification phase does not depend in the result. The remaining fixtures after Bloemfontein are Sunwolves (home) and Bulls (away).