United Rugby Championship

Stormers still loath to move Willemse to 12 to fit Gelant into XV v Sharks

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Damian Willemse. (Photo by Gordon Arons/Gallo Images)
Damian Willemse. (Photo by Gordon Arons/Gallo Images)
  • Head coach John Dobson is loath to shift Damian Willemse from fullback to first centre to accommodate Warrick Gelant for the Stormers clash against the Sharks.
  • Willemse played at fullback against the Bulls while Gelant came off the bench to spark the Stormers to a 30-26 win at Loftus.
  • Dobson still has faith in Willemse as a flyhalf, although his No 10 prospects have dried up locally and internationally in recent seasons.

Stormers head coach John Dobson is loath to shift Damian Willemse from fullback to first centre to accommodate Warrick Gelant in the XV for the United Rugby Championship (URC) local derbies.

The Capetonians travel to Durban this weekend to square off with the Sharks on Saturday in what could prove a humdinger of a contest.

Dobson has two World Cup-winning Springbok fullbacks banging at his door to start this weekend and future games in this tournament but can only accommodate one, Willemse, as it stands.

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The Stormers have decided against giving Willemse a shot at inside centre, his most deprived position of all he can flourish in, to slot Gelant into the starting team.

"It's important to stick to the plan you make because it doesn't potentially affect those two players but others as well. It may be a similar thing at centre," said Dobson.

"We made a commitment that we're going to play him (Willemse) for the four games, and we're going to stick to it, so Warrick will be on the bench this week.

"People will say that Warrick played well when he came on, why didn't you start him?

"The obvious answer is the plan we've got. Damian Willemse's general game was absolutely magnificent, and the way we dominated the backfield was good for us - him and Manie (Libbok).

"The second thing is, Warrick's role last week was to be an impact player and blow the game open, and it went absolutely according to plan.

"I don't think the plan's wrong because Warrick made those two magic passes. I think the plan was right and we're committed to it and are pretty comfortable with what we're going to do in that respect."

Although Dobson believes Willemse could still make it as a flyhalf, chances of making an impact as an international No 10 seem to be dwindling.

The Boks tried Willemse at No 12 at stints during the British & Irish Lions tour but he also came on for Handre Pollard at pivot against the Wallabies during the Rugby Championship, where he was unfairly castigated for missing a penalty in the narrow defeat.

For the UK tour in November, he started at fullback against Wales before an early injury curtailed the rest of his match and end-year tour.

Manie Libbok started the Bulls game at No 10, with Tim Swiel seen as a capable replacement should he be elevated from the Western Province Currie Cup side.

"I happen to still believe Damian could make a very good flyhalf," Dobson said.

"He was chosen for the national team against Wales at fullback. To move him there (inside centre) is something that's going to take a fair bit of consultation, to get something that suits Damian as well in terms of where he wants to go.

"The other thing, to move him in means dropping another player. We've got Rikus Pretorius and Dan du Preez doing well there (centre).

"We've got to plan for these local derbies and to put him in a new position for a local derby with so much pressure could have such consequences in terms of the log. It wouldn't be fair on Damain.

"Our view was to look after these four games and we'll see."

Gelant's second-half magic off the bench helped the Stormers to a 30-26 over the Bulls at Loftus and set tongues wagging about the potential to have both Boks on the park.

Dobson has curbed the enthusiasm because of Gelant's unclear contractual situation, which he expected to be amiably resolved.

"We must also see what Warrick's long-term plans are. We don't want to move Damian somewhere else, but Warrick is out of contract at the end of June," the coach said.

"I have no doubt Damian is going to stay, and once we know that [for sure], then we can look at that option.

"[Moving Willemse to No 12] is the most logical way of accommodating both. In the medium to long-term, we don't want two Springbok fullbacks, one sitting on the bench.

"Warrick, for one, would also be an excellent 13." 

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