Stormers bank on Willemse’s calming presence

Damian Willemse is expected to partner Dan du Plessis in the midfield for the Stormers. | BackpagePix

Damian Willemse is expected to partner Dan du Plessis in the midfield for the Stormers. | BackpagePix

Published May 15, 2024


Leighton Koopman

Damian Willemse and Marcel Theunissen are set to return to the Stormers’ starting line-up for Saturday’s all-important United Rugby Championship encounter with Connacht in Galway.

Willemse was rested against the Dragons last week Friday and his calming presence was missed, especially in the first half when things did not go the way of the Cape side.

The double World Cup winner’s experience will be key on Saturday (kick-off 6.05pm) in keeping the home team on the back foot, not just with his kicking and attacking prowess but also his defensive combination with Dan du Plessis. He will take the place of Wandisile Simelane.

Marcel Theunissen of the Stormers. | BackpagePix

Simelane and Du Plessis’ combination is growing by the game, and defensively they did well at Rodney Parade during the 44-21 victory. But Willemse and Du Plessis will be the duo the Stormers look to as they approach the knockouts.

Theunissen’s possible return will also bring balance to the loose trio, with the hard-running Evan Roos and Ben-Jason Dixon’s physicality vital up front, while Theunissen’s linking between the pack and backline will be important.

Playing without a recognised fetcher, the Stormers will also look to their loose trio, alongside the lock pairing of Ruben van Heerden and captain Salmaan Moerat, to throw their weight around at the breakdown.

They definitely have to disrupt Connacht at the tackle area, and if they can do it, it will open up the game for their transition play. And that is where they buried the Dragons last weekend in Newport.

Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu of the Stormers. | Backpagepix

John Dobson, Stormers coach, is also toying with a 6-2 split in terms of forwards and backs on the bench that will mean one of Wandisile Simelane or Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu will miss out on a spot in the team.

Feinberg-Mngomezulu recently returned to action after a lengthy injury lay-off but impressed so much that he will most likely be the utility back on the bench alongside the scrumhalf.

He scored two tries against the Dragons and also showed the touches he had at the start of the season when Boks like Willemse and flyhalf Manie Libbok were absent from the team.

There is no certainty on the starting tighthead and loosehead prop, though.

Dobson and his brains trust must decide between double World Cup winner Frans Malherbe and Neethling Fouche. Fouche has been the in-form prop at the Stormers this season, and after spending time on the bench for a couple of games since Malherbe’s return, he will want to get back into the run-on team.

He also stabilised the scrum against the Dragons after some tough calls against Malherbe and Harris during the first half of the clash.

The Stormers don’t have the luxury of rotation any more and from here on out, their strongest side will have to start the next two games as they continue to push for a home semi-final.

A bonus-point win in Galway will secure a top-eight spot in the tournament and keep their hopes of getting a home quarter-final this year alive.