Will he star or won't he?
At this point, the question of how Damian Willemse will go in the Stormers’ much-anticipated Super Rugby quarter-final clash against the Chiefs is probably a bigger one than if he will be selected for the showdown.
Or, maybe not.
The young flyhalf has started in three games for the Stormers, and although he hasn’t disappointed in any of those, the need for a more experienced campaigner at No 10 for such a big match might beat the 19-year-old’s satisfying performances he’s produced over the last few weeks.
Against the Cheetahs, the Stormers’ coaching team eased him into his first start by not assigning the goal-kicking duties to him, but in his second start against the Sunwolves, that responsibility was added to his list.
It was the same against the Bulls at Loftus at the weekend, and it should be said that his goal-kicking should improve.
But he offers way more than that. And the desire or the need for a “more experienced campaigner” shouldn’t count against everything that Willemse has to offer. Because he offers so much more. Willemse is a special addition to the Stormers’ attack. A very special one at that.
Remember that cameo appearance in Port Elizabeth against the Kings when Willemse made his Super Rugby debut for the Stormers? When he created more magic in three minutes than most players had in that whole game? After that, we heard those who doubted the fresh-out-of-school talent say things like “ya but he did that against poor opposition” or “we’ll see if he can do that against bigger teams with a tighter defence”.
Fast forward a few months, and he showed that he is not just a star for the small stage.
Against the Cheetahs, he was outstanding on attack with his dummy passes, his line breaks and his support play. He didn’t shy away when it came to the grittier parts of the game either – he got stuck in and he made his tackles. And when it came to his kicks for touch, he carved off some good distance even when he didn’t have much of an angle to work with.
He hasn’t done much that can be faulted. In fact, the only thing I think can be faulted is his goal-kicking. But his goal-kicking can be worked on, it can improve. And if the Stormers are set on protecting him or giving those duties to someone else on Saturday, there’s SP Marais or even Cheslin Kolbe to handle the posts.
Like I said, he’s shown that he’s not just a star for the small stage (if you consider Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium a “small” stage after the Kings’ resurgence), but the biggest stage he can now finally prove his worth on is a quarter-final match against the Chiefs.
And judging by what coach Robbie Fleck said about the youngster’s possible selection this week, we might just be treated to another Willemse spectacle come Saturday.
“I think he’s been outstanding. He’s certainly brought a different dynamic to our attack, he brings a lot of energy and he’s a tough boy.
“We’ve got no problem selecting him against the Chiefs – it doesn’t matter what his age is – the boy is performing,” Fleck said.
That right there is the backing a special talent like Willemse needs – the kind of backing that will trust his ability to put his attacking prowess on show against one of the best attacking sides on Saturday.