Johannesburg - After having made the graduation to starting flyhalf in a Super Rugby match, Damian Willemse is set to take another step by taking the responsibility for the Stormers’ place-kicking.
According to the SuperSport website, SP Marais started out as the first choice Stormers kicker when the Cape team visited Bloemfontein last weekend and there was some surprise when wing Cheslin Kolbe took over the place-kicking duties after Marais was injured. 19-year-old Willemse is a decent kicker from the tee, and it might have been anticipated he’d take the responsibility from the outset.
As it turned out, after missing an easy early attempt, Kolbe did a good job, and his successes included a tough angled conversion at a tense stage of the game after Sikhumbuzo Notshe scored in the corner to enable the Stormers to regain the lead with under eight minutes to go. As it would force the Cheetahs to seek a converted try to win, it was critical for Kolbe to land the kick, and he did.
“I tried to run all my tries closer to the poles so the kicks would be easier,” quipped Kolbe, who scored a hattrick of tries in the game.
“It was a new experience for me but when SP was injured we only had Damian as our other kicker and we didn’t want to put too much pressure on him in his first game.”
Assistant coach Paul Feeney confirmed that the decision not to go with Willemse as the place-kicker was related to pressure overload for last year’s South African Schools flyhalf, but hinted that it would be different when the Stormers host the Sunwolves at Newlands on Saturday.
“I thought Cheslin did well as our kicker in Bloemfontein, particularly with that pressure kick from the touchline,” said Feeney.
“With Damian playing his first game we felt it would be better not to give him the place-kicking duties. We didn’t want to put extra pressure on him. Going to Bloemfontein is a tough place to go for your debut. But this weekend we are at home and a home game may be different. Damian has his first game at Super Rugby level under his belt and this might be a good time for him to take over the kicking as his next step.”
The Stormers do need a kicker for this week as Marais has been ruled out of the game.
“SP is not looking good for this week but we are pleased it is not a long term injury as it looked like it could be anything when he came off and we were worried he might be out for the rest of the Super Rugby season,” said Feeney.
There seems a good chance Marais, who did not suffer any ligament damage in falling awkwardly, will be ready to travel to Pretoria for the final league game, which is being treated as a dress rehearsal for the quarterfinal. He will most likely also take over the goalkicking duties then, but in the meantime Willemse can pick up some experience of kicking in the highly pressurised atmosphere of a Super Rugby game, albeit a match that the Stormers should be expected to win easily.
Feeney said the coaching team were elated with what Willemse had delivered in his first match at Super Rugby level.
“Damian did really well and good on him to play so well and be so mature and calm at his age. It was a year ago next week that he was playing at Craven Week. I thought he kicked really well for the sideline. He carved off at least 40 metres every time he kicked. From penalties he put the ball within 10 metres of the tryline, which is what you want. One of his kicks set up our position for the winning try.
“What I liked about it was that he was keen to go for the corner. He wasn’t scared. He made a few mistakes but we expected him to make a few mistakes. He was nervous last week as it was his first game. We expect him to be better this week. It is all about experience. Every bit of exposure he gets at this level will help him and build him as a player. As a coaching group we were very pleased with his debut.”