CAPE TOWN - Stormers coach Robbie Fleck says he doesn’t want Damian Willemse to be “inhibited” when he starts at No 10 against the Cheetahs at the Free State Stadium on Saturday.
Willemse, who was a part of Chean Roux Junior Springbok side that claimed the bronze medal at the World Rugby Under-20 Championships in Georgia, will earn his first start for the Stormers after coming off the bench in the Stormers’ win over the Kings earlier this season.
“He will make mistakes, but we don’t mind that. We would rather he tried things than go out there and be too inhibited by the fear that he might make some mistakes,” said Fleck.
“He has a lot of skill and certainly brings the capability of bringing a new dimension to us on attack. We have tried Kurt Coleman against the Sharks and Dillyn Leyds went well when he got a game there but we want to see what Damian can do. If he goes well we will definitely consider him for a role in the business end of the competition.”
Fleck also said the experience that Willemse will have around him in Shaun Treeby at inside centre and Jano Vermaak at scrumhalf would will help him handle some of the pressure.
“Damian is a young kid in our system who has really impressed us over the past 12 months and we have been grooming him for an opportunity. And now that the back end of the competition has arrived we feel the time is right to give him a try,” Fleck said.
“We want to take a look at him. He has come off the bench for us a bit this season but this is his chance to start at flyhalf. What helps us is that we have experienced guys on either side of him.”
And although Willemse played most of the Junior World Championship at No 12, Fleck believes he won’t have much trouble transitioning back into his natural position.
“In modern rugby the flyhalf and inside centre play similar games so I don’t foresee it being a problem. He is a mature kid and, as I said, he has experienced guys around him. The left footed kicking of SP Marais at fullback will also help him and take some of the pressure off him.
The Bloemfontein fixture will also see loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff make his first appearance for the Stormers since 2015 should he come off the bench, while hooker Ramone Samuels will make his first start in the Stormers jersey.
Skipper Siya Kolisi and vice-captain Eben Etzebeth, who are both being rested, will have their captaincy roles covered by tighthead Frans Malherbe and utility back Dillyn Leyds respectively, with lock Chris van Zyl replacing Etzebeth in the second row.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Henco Venter, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Elandre Huggett, 1 Ox Nche;
Replacements: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Justin Basson, 20 Oupa Mohoje, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Ruan van Rensburg, 23 William Small-Smith
Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Dillyn Leyds (vice-captain), 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Rynardt Elstadt, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Frans Malherbe (captain), 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg;
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 EW Viljoen, 23 Seabelo Senatla.