JOHANNESBURG - One of the most exciting players to make his mark in South African rugby in recent years has been Damian Willemse - a flyhalf.
He played in the No 10 jersey while at school at Paul Roos Gymnasium, he played in the No 10 jersey for the SA Schools team for two years, in 2015 and 2016, he played for the SA Under-20 team at the Junior World Cup in the No 10 jersey and he’s played in the same position for the Stormers.
So, why would anyone want to make him put on a No 15 jersey for the Springboks? I was surprised to hear national coach Rassie Erasmus talk about Willemse last week as a potential Test fullback... and that easing him into Test rugby at fullback, and from off the bench, might be easier on him, with less pressure.
That might be, and many reasons have been provided why such a move would be best for the player, but the alternative view is that a player who has played flyhalf all his life knows the demands that go with the No 10 shirt. Surely Willemse has shown over the last few years that he is good enough to be picked at No 10 for the Boks, or play off the bench in that position... or he wouldn’t have been picked for his school team, SA Schools, SA U20s and the Boks.
Erasmus has said he doesn’t doubt the 20-year-old’s ability, but that playing at No 15 might help him in understanding how to manipulate the opposition. He added the pressure at No 15, at Willemse’s age, would be less to deal with than at flyhalf. That might be, but surely when you’ve got a talent as promising as Willemse, you want to get him in at No 10 as quickly as possible, to let him grow into the role, feel the pressure at flyhalf and learn.