Rassie on Willemse: I understand the hype

Damian Willemse (Gallo)
Damian Willemse (Gallo)

Durban - Damian Willemse is likely to make his Springbok debut at fullback when he comes off the bench against Argentina on Saturday, but he could find himself thrown in at flyhalf if injury strikes in the wrong areas for the Boks. 

With Elton Jantjies not in the mix this weekend, Willemse will serve as both the fullback and No 10 cover off the bench in Durban. 

The 20-year-old operated as Robbie Fleck's Stormers flyhalf for almost all of the 2018 Super Rugby season, and he was largely impressive throughout that campaign. 

While Willemse's pace, distribution and stepping ability combine to make him one of the most exciting attacking prospects in South African rugby currently, what really impresses coach Rassie Erasmus is how solid he is defensively. 

Willie le Roux is comfortably the first-choice Springbok fullback currently, but Erasmus is looking to build depth in the position ahead of the World Cup in Japan next year. 

Warrick Gelant is out injured, while Pat Lambie could also make a return to the national side before 2019, but right now the stage is set for Willemse to take his chance. 

"I would like to see him at fullback just to know what we have as we try to build towards next year," Erasmus explained from the Bok team hotel in Umhlanga on Thursday.

While most of South Africa knows Willemse for his flyhalf ability following his impressive 2018, Erasmus was equally pleased with what he showed during last year's Currie Cup campaign for Western Province at fullback. 

"There is enough experience there to be able to handle that. Rugby Championships are a totally different beast and hopefully we will be in a comfortable enough position where we can put him on," Erasmus added.

"I’m not sure when we’re going to put him on. If we get an injury at 10 then he can go to 10 or if we got one at 12 then Handre can move to 12. It’s nice to have a Frans Steyn type of player.”

While the talent is not in question at all, Erasmus says that how Willemse copes with the mental aspect of Test rugby is crucial.

"I think he’s one of those younger guys who physically can stand up. You don’t doubt his physicality if you compare him with other guys his age," Erasmus said.

"We know how he can tackle, he’s got a great step and a good boot.

"The challenge will be pressure and expectation, but if he gets through that he is a talent and maybe he can do it for us at the World Cup as a utility player.

"I can understand why the hype is there."

Kick-off on Saturday is at 17:05.

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