CAPE TOWN - Imagine the pressure Damian Willemse must have been under when he made his run-on debut for the Stormers against the Cheetahs last week.
I mean, getting your first start has to be daunting regardless of your age. Add the fact that it’s in a position like flyhalf and the fact that you have built up a reputation as a junior star (so all eyes will obviously be on you) in there, and the pressure levels rise times ten.
But when the 19-year-old Willemse stepped onto the field at the Free State Stadium at the weekend, it didn’t take him long to prove that he’s more than just one of those hyped-up juniors that never really make the cut in senior rugby.
Against the Cheetahs, Willemse didn’t do much wrong. He produced a composed performance and he scored a try after producing a piece of individual attacking brilliance and topped that off with superb support play to take a return pass from Rynhardt Elstadt to finish off the move. He also had a hand in Cheslin Kolbe’s first try, his line-kicking was good (sometimes he got good distance with only a slight angle to work with) and his game-management couldn’t be faulted.
After the game, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck was pleased with Willemse’s efforts: “He’s a young kid with lots of talent and there were some brilliant touches from him. There were one or two mistakes, but that’s to be expected from him because he’s young. For him to perform at this level was a big ask away from home and he’s delivered.”
And how could Fleck not be pleased with that? In fact, Fleck wasn’t the only one on the coaching team that had words of praise for Willemse.
Earlier this week, Stormers skills coach Paul Feeney said: “I am expecting him (Willemse) to play better again this week. Every minute he gets at this level the better he is going to get over the next while.”
Fleck mentioned the “brilliant touches” Willemse contributed in their 40-34 win over the Cheetahs, so I can’t wait to see what touches he adds this week. It’s those brilliant touches that he adds so effortlessly that are going to add an element of thrill to the Stormers’ attack should Willemse be part of the play-off action.
And if he puts in another solid performance at Newlands against the Sunwolves this weekend, that might very well be the case, as Fleck alluded to in the build-up to the fixture against the Cheetahs.
It’s his ability to keep opposition defences guessing that makes him such a threat and, like he showed at the weekend, he’s not just your go-to man when it comes to sparking an attack: his distribution skills were tops and his out-of-hand kicking relieved some good pressure off the Stormers at crucial stages last Saturday.
So, with Robert du Preez and Jean-Luc du Plessis out with injury, Willemse has another chance to show that he can boost the Stormers, at least for the play-offs.