- Damian Willemse has come under scrutiny this year after underwhelming performances at No 10.
- He faces Morne Steyn on Saturday, who wrote the book on how to handle intense pressure in the position.
- The Bulls host the Stormers at Loftus during this weekend's Super Rugby Unlocked round.
Damian Willemse has had the No 10 jersey nailed on his back all of 2020 - the limited amount of rugby the year’s had, at least - but he hasn’t quite settled in the position.
It seems as if not a week goes by without questions asked either of his ability in the role or his ability to perform at an even higher level, internationally, where the scrutiny will be even more unforgiving.
But the Stormers pivot faces someone this weekend who knows all about the pressure of the spotlight that shines on a talented flyhalf, his Bulls opposite number Morne Steyn.
While Willemse (22) comes into the game a full 14 years younger, with feet that could dance circles around Steyn (36), the veteran is an old school overhead projector and could teach the youngster a thing or five.
Come 19:00 kick-off, class will officially be in session:
While Willemse might feel like the walls are caving in on him every time he walks off the field after an average performance, he has not faced half the level of scrutiny Steyn has.
In 2009, when he practically won the Springboks the British and Irish Lions series, Steyn was the toast of South Africa.
The joy lasted about a year and, although the good times rolled, 2010 was a tough year for him and the Boks, while tries dried up at the far end of the backline during Bryan Habana’s aberration try drought.
Everyone called for Steyn’s, then coach Peter de Villiers and, believe it or not, Habana’s head. But, Steyn tucked away the criticism in a place in his mind that shuts the blinds and lets him focus on the very next task at hand and that’s how he accumulated 66 Test caps and scored 736 points (second most of all time) for the Boks.
Kicking garnering confidence
One of the things Steyn revealed recently, in a rare kick-about with the media at Loftus last week, was that he wasn’t originally regarded as the sniper of a goal-kicker that we now know him for.
He said it took former Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer’s insistence that he jack up his place kicking if he wanted to be a Bulls starter, in a team that still had Derick Hougaard.
Steyn was - nobody will believe this even if you write it 1 000 times - a stepping fullback that could play flyhalf coming out of high school.
Although not at Willemse's level in that regard, he wasn’t too dissimilar to having the kind of devastating dance moves Willemse has shown to have.
While not advocating that Willemse abandon his natural gifts, which have seen him in good stead thus far, there is value in adding a precise kicking game to have a long career at flyhalf.
Become a stand-off
There’s a reason the British call the flyhalf position stand-off. Sometimes, the 10 needs to sit back and string the play from the background, not the foreground and let others do the work.
Often, Willemse wants to be the focal point of the attack and backline defence, take contact and still be in position to be the first receiver and dictate play.
You’ll only win one of those battles, if at all, in derby games against the Bulls. Steyn has done this all his life, after the flash was coached out of him in Pretoria.
Steyn is certainly a clean shorts flyhalf and there are times that call for such.
Your nine is your ally
Maybe it’s because Steyn had a peak Fourie du Preez as a scrumhalf in his time as the Boks’ and Bulls’ go-to No 10, but, again, Steyn is good at letting his No 9 take some of the decision-making pressure away.
Du Preez could deliver masterclass after masterclass of game control and tempo dictation from halfback and there are few like him around.
But in Herschel Jantjies, Willemse has an asset that he should use to his own advantage. Both are quick thinkers and quick movers, something Du Preez and Steyn were not, so already they have one over that duo.
But to harness their partnership, they need to know when one will be the pilot and when to let the other be the co-pilot. And as the general, Willemse should be the one to let Jantjies know when to take over the wheel.
Form is seasonal, class is permanent
One of the key things that made Steyn an attractive pick from 2009 and 2016 was that he treated the adulation and the criticism the same way he shrugged it off.
He kept his mind and heart rate at an even pace throughout, never rising with the emotional highs of game-clinching kicks, and never sinking low in agonising defeats.
He is the same guy, many have attested, on the field as he is off it. Willemse, one senses, maybe because of his age, gets swept up in with the current.
And when the current is low, he can sink with it. This weekend, no matter the result, Steyn will be back at Loftus doing his same routine and doing the things he does well, which is why he has Jake White's trust, even at his advanced age.
David Kriel, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 Cornal Hendricks,
11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen
(captain), 7 Elrigh Louw, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Jason
Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Substitutes: 16 Joe van Zyl, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Marco Jansen van Vuren
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Edwill van der Merwe, 13 Dan du Plessis, 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Ernst van Rhyn, 6 Jaco Coetzee, 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain)
Substitutes (from): 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Leon Lyons, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 David Meihuizen, 21 Marcel Theunissen, 22 Ben-Jason Dixon, 23 Godlen Masimla, 24 Tim Swiel, 25 Angelo Davids, 26 Tristan Leyds