Playing Damian Willemse at fullback for Boks is the right move… for now

By Ashfak Mohamed Time of article published Aug 13, 2018

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CAPE TOWN – Like most rugby lovers, I hate it when players are picked out of position.

The last scenario that bombed spectacularly was Warrick Gelant at wing for the Springboks against Wales in Cardiff last year.

Poor Gelant was hung out to dry by former Bok coach Allister Coetzee as Wales exploited the Bulls man’s lack of experience out wide to score a couple of tries on his side.

Now in 2018, under new Bok boss Rassie Erasmus, we have another situation of a top-class talent about to be played out of position – Stormers flyhalf Damian Willemse.

Erasmus said recently that he wants to introduce Willemse to Test rugby via fullback, and this time around, I feel it is the right move, for now.

One of the problems with South African rugby – as Elton Jantjies has discovered – is that the Bok No 10 jersey is the holy grail… especially if you are black.

No matter how many mistakes the likes of Morné Steyn, Pat Lambie and Handré Pollard have made in the pivot position over the years, they escaped the kind of ridicule that Jantjies has had to endure.

This is not about defending Jantjies – he has failed to fully grab the opportunities that have come his way in the Test arena up to now, even though circumstances have been difficult in some instances (like in the wet Newlands Test against England in June).

But a man who has steered the Lions to three consecutive Super Rugby finals must be doing something right, surely?

Yes, he’s made errors in those finals as well, but still…

So, it’s actually quite a clever ploy from Erasmus to shield Willemse from the inevitable fall-out with Bok supporters once he “dared to make a mistake” as the flyhalf.

That’s one positive about the strategy. The other is that there are many examples of flyhalves starting out in the big time in another position.

Dan Carter was at inside centre initially for the All Blacks, learning from Carlos Spencer.

The latest New Zealand sensation, Damian McKenzie, mainly featured at fullback before getting more opportunities at No 10 this year.

The great Wallaby Stephen Larkham was also first a fullback before moving to the pivot position.

With Pollard entrenched for the Boks at the moment, Willemse won’t just walk into the team at flyhalf right now.

But with 15 Tests to go to the 2019 World Cup, starting with Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Durban, that’s plenty of time for the 20-year-old from Strand to find his feet.

And with Pollard still not quite the finished article, Willemse – who possesses greater X-factor – could be running out in the No 10 jersey against the defending champion All Blacks on Saturday, September 21 at the International Stadium in Yokohama.

Let’s just hope that he is not cast aside unceremoniously like Curwin Bosch and Dillyn Leyds have been…



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