The big Damian Willemse debate: Is he, or isn't he good enough?
OPINION: It is not new to South African rugby, but some players just seem to polarise opinion. Damian Willemse is certainly a polarising figure.
Willemse has been an ’emerging talent’ for some time – as an electric schoolboy player with a seemingly unstoppable step.
He quickly rose through the ranks – South African schools in 2015, to the under-20 side in 2017 to become a capped Springbok in 2018.
The flyhalf has been developing at the Stormers over that time, with 30 Super Rugby caps to his name since debuting as an 18-year-old in 2017.
Despite being used as a No.10 at provincial and franchise level, Willemse has been used as a fullback by Rassie Erasmus for the Springboks in three of his six tests so far.
As a utility on the bench, he has also covered centre and wing, but is yet to feature as a No.10 for the national side.
In the Springbok trial at Newlands last week, Willemse had the chance to show his wares at No.10 against the experienced Elton Jantjies.
He left fans convinced his future lies in another position, with an unconvincing performance for the Gold side.
That has led to a severe reversal in fans’ minds over Willemse as a flyhalf prospect, with a swift response online with fans ‘falling out of love’ after having ‘too much faith in Damian Willemse’.
I hate to say this…….I may have had too much faith in Damian Willemse
— Mayi (@MTshwete) October 3, 2020
At 12 or 15? Singancokola kengok
— BigBiggerRalo (@Sinolwazi10) October 3, 2020
Damian willemse is not the answer
— Nash (@nashdondashe) October 3, 2020
DAMIAN WILLEMSE ON FRAUD WATCH NOW!
— DrTwenty2 (@22Mkhize) October 3, 2020
He’s never had to earn his jersey and it shows
— Darth Faded (@faya_04) October 5, 2020
I know we aren’t meant to moan about the #springbok warmup game this weekend, guys have been off for a while, plenty of rust… but how bad was Damian Willemse? Plus that unneeded cynical pull in an exhibition game
— Vic 🏳️🌈 #BLM (@VictorZA) October 5, 2020
My friend spent 2 hours this morning on a video call trying to convince me that it’s time to start developing Damian Willemse into a 12 and I’m only now starting to see it
— Drake 🤔 (@MvusiTroc) October 5, 2020
I get that thread but yho yho yho Damian Willemse has beeeen poor at 10, he just isn’t a 10. His career will go by so quickly ibeyi waste oko ezamnywa kwa 10. He’s a fullback.
— Alpha Male (@Options____) October 5, 2020
Other fans urged the doubters to have some patience, as the pre-season clash gave the players very little time to prepare and find some form.
One fan compared Willemse’s performance to Handre Pollard against Argentina in just his second test back in 2014, saying writing off Willemse is a ‘tad premature’ as Pollard was able to kick well during the World Cup six years later.
Another said Willemse had ‘too much talent’ not to be patient with him, and that an extended run in the 10 jersey would pay dividends.
I watched Handre Pollard kick 2/7 in a Test match against Argentina in Durban. That same Handre Pollard kicked lights out in a World Cup semi-final and final.
Writing off Damian Willemse after Saturday’s performance in a pre-season friendly is a tad premature …
— IG: johngoliath (@JohnGoliath82) October 6, 2020
Agreed Oom, he’s a super talented rugby player & has been moved around position wise, utility curse in this case, can be a benefit. Give him an extended run in the No 10 jersey & I believe he will thrive. Patience is required with him, too much talent not to. #DamianWillemse
— Graeme Peacock (@graemepeacock05) October 5, 2020
Springbok assistant coach Deon Davids defended his young flyhalf, confident that he will come out stronger next time.
“We all know that Damian is a special talent and he can win you games,” Davids said.
“Obviously, rugby players go through the cycle where they maybe don’t have one of the best nights and he just didn’t have one of his best matches.”
At just 22-years-old, Willemse has more experience than most players his age and is yet to reach the peak of athletic ability.
It would be surprising to see the Springboks give up on him when he could potentially develop into a multi-position player in the same mould of New Zealand’s No.10-No.15 hybrids in Damian McKenzie and Beauden Barrett, who can start in either position at Test level.
With regular starter Handre Pollard injured for the foreseeable future, there is a higher chance of receiving more game time with the Springboks should they find a way to play in this year’s Rugby Championship.
Erasmus has indicated that Elton Jantjies is the preferred option to fill that role, but that would open the bench spot for a reserve flyhalf like Willemse to see some action at the back end of games.