CAPE TOWN – If ever Damian Willemse thought he was facing a tough test in his fledgling career, it has just become tougher.
The 20-year-old wunderkind from Strand has been named at fullback for Western Province’s Currie Cup encounter against Griquas at Newlands on Saturday (7.30pm kickoff).
But that’s not the tough part. The game is going to serve as a virtual Springbok trial for Willemse ahead of next Saturday’s Rugby Championship showdown with the Wallabies in Port Elizabeth.
Earlier on Thursday, SA Rugby announced that incumbent No 15 Willie le Roux has not been released by his English club Wasps for the Wallaby and All Black Tests, which means the fullback berth is up for grabs.
Erasmus has said previously that Cheslin Kolbe is a “specialist fullback” back-up to Le Roux in the squad.
But the Bok boss has also stated that he wants to ease Willemse into Test rugby from the back instead of his preferred flyhalf position, in order to take some pressure off the playmaker.
So, while Griquas are very far off being a Test-level team, Willemse will have a lot to play for at Newlands.
Kolbe could also slot in at wing for the Boks, following injuries to Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am, which saw Jesse Kriel move to centre in the second half against the All Blacks in Wellington.
WP coach John Dobson made the surprising call to shift Dillyn Leyds – who was at fullback – to the bench instead of wing, with Sergeal Petersen and JJ Engelbrecht starting out wide, and Josh Stander continuing at flyhalf.
Three other returning Boks, Bongi Mbonambi, Wilco Louw and Sikhumbuzo Notshe, all go straight into the starting line-up for Province.
Western Province Team
15 Damian Willemse 14 Sergeal Petersen 13 Ruhan Nel 12 Dan Kriel 11 JJ Engelbrecht 10 Josh Stander 9 Herschel Jantjies 8 Juarno Augustus 7 Kobus van Dyk 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe 5 Chris van Zyl (captain) 4 Salmaan Moerat 3 Wilco Louw 2 Bongi Mbonambi 1 Ali Vermaak.
Bench: 16 Scarra Ntubeni 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Michael Kumbirai 19 Ernst van Rhyn 20 Justin Phillips 21 Dan du Plessis 22 Dillyn Leyds.