Rassie's plan for Bok newcomer Willemse

Damian Willemse (Gallo)
Damian Willemse (Gallo)

Cape Town - Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus said back in June that he wanted to give Damian Willemse a Test debut during the Rugby Championship this year. 

The 20-year-old was not considered for the June Tests against England, with Erasmus believing that he would gain more from representing the Junior Boks at the U20 World Championship in France. 

As it turns out, Willemse was injured at that tournament and would miss the rest of the Super Rugby season as a result. 

But, 2018 was still his year. 

With Jean-Luc du Plessis injured at the Stormers, Willemse was given the No 10 jersey at Newlands and immediately impressed. 

In what was a disappointing season for the Stormers, Willemse emerged as one of the only shining lights with his attacking flair, distribution, impressive physicality and largely consistent boot all suggesting that he had the makings of a future star. 

It didn't take long for Willemse to force his way into the Springbok conversation, and on Monday he was named in a 35-man squad for the Rugby Championship. 

While he played almost all of his rugby at flyhalf this year, it seems that Willemse will get his Springbok chance at fullback. 

Willie le Roux, contrary to reports over the weekend, is available for the Springboks from the first Championship Test against Argentina in Durban next weekend, so Willemse might have to be patient. 

But, when he does get his chance, it looks almost certain that it will come at fullback. 

"Pat Lambie started as a 15 before moving to 10 and Frans Steyn too. I think it helps you a lot with understanding how to manipulate the opposition. I think we’re going to try him like that, Erasmus said.

"I’m not sure how quickly he’s going to get it right. There hasn’t been a World Cup won with a flyhalf under the age of 24. That’s your quarterback and it’s the position where you must be in control.

"A position like 15 at his age currently is probably where the pressure might be a little less and you can blood him into a team. He will get his chance in the next two games against Argentina so let’s see how he goes and take it from there."

Steyn and Lambie are still very clearly in Erasmus' plans, but if Willemse shines when given his opportunity there may be no need to look overseas for depth at fullback.

"Things change quickly in world rugby in terms of injuries. You have to make alternative plans, and he (Willemse) might surprise you so that you don’t have to look at the other guys," Erasmus said.

"He’s a local boy and he is available and always here. Maybe he is one of those like Frans Steyn when he was 19 who can just step up and do it already."

As Erasmus plans the road towards Japan 2019, Willemse's ability to play numerous positions stands him in good stead.

"I see him as a future guy who can cover 10, 12 and 15 which is a wonderful thing to have in your team," said Erasmus.

"He is physically ready for it as his age, so that’s good. We saw that when he played for the Stormers and he was one of the more physical flyhalves."

Willemse is expected to be named on the bench for next weekend's clash against the Pumas at Kings Park. 

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