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Ruhan Nel returns, Damian Willemse to launch counter-attacks for Stormers against London Irish

Stormers’ Damian Willemse in action in the United Rugby Championship

Stormers’ Damian Willemse in action in the United Rugby Championship. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Published Jan 14, 2023

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Cape Town — Damian Willemse’s understanding of defence and Ruhan Nel’s return from injury is the main reason why the Springbok star has been shifted to fullback by the Stormers for tomorrow’s Champions Cup clash against London Irish.

Coach John Dobson made a couple of important changes to the backline from the one that went down 24-17 to Glasgow Warriors in the United Rugby Championship last weekend.

The Stormers made a few unnecessary errors in the second half, and eventually conceded a late try to concede a heartbreaking defeat at Scotstoun Stadium.

But moving Willemse to the No 15 jersey – in place of Clayton Blommetjies – will bring a sense of stability to the back division against London Irish at the Brentford Community Stadium (3pm SA time kickoff) on Sunday.

It was also a timely gift, on Friday the 13th, to get Nel back from a calf injury that has kept him on the sidelines for the past few games, which will aid the Stormers’ defensive organisation as well.

“Ruhan Nel is unquestionably our number one 13, and he has rehabbed and recovered from his injury faster than we thought,” Dobson said yesterday.

“It gives us a different feel to the backs to move Suleiman out to wing, which is our preferred position for him this year.

“Dan (du Plessis) and Ruhan, defensively and offensively, kicking game, are exceptional centres, and Damian has been brilliant for us at 15. So, that was pretty simple for us there.

“He (Willemse) has a really good understanding of our defensive system – how to close the gap. We have picked up a lot of criticism about our defence last week, but we are going to use that line-speed and need the fullback to have an advanced understanding of both their kicking threat and how they close.

“So, I think that’s very good for us, and I also think the way he can launch our counter-attack. We’ve got a certain plan for this week, and he will be useful there.

“We also think Dan and Ruhan are an exceptional centre combination, and we just want to change one or two things from last week, and it just fits our plan for this week.

“Ruhan is probably our defensive leader. We had Suleiman (Hartzenberg) in there, and in his first year of senior rugby it’s a lot to absorb – a lot of detail, and it’s a very complex position to defend… They say it’s the hardest position on the field to defend.”

There is also a new face in the forwards, where youngster Connor Evans has been rewarded for his efforts off the bench with a start at No 4, with Ben-Jason Dixon moved to the bench, while Junior Pokomela replaces Willie Engelbrecht at blindside flank.

On the bench, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Stefan Ungerer are back from injury.

“We thought Connor deserves a start – he’s come off the bench for us five or six times this season, and he’s actually done quite well.

“BJ’s put a lot in over the last few games, and we think with his speed and impact… We’ve got a picture of how this game will (pan out) from London Irish – there are similarities, but also differences from last week.

“BJ has a slightly different role this week, but we wanted to give Connor a start. Junior has also worn the number 21 jersey for a long time, so we felt he deserves a start.”

Stormers Team

15 Damian Willemse 14 Suleiman Hartzenberg 13 Ruhan Nel 12 Dan du Plessis 11 Angelo Davids 10 Manie Libbok 9 Paul de Wet 8 Hacjivah Dayimani 7 Junior Pokomela 6 Deon Fourie 5 Marvin Orie 4 Connor Evans 3 Neethling Fouche 2 Joseph Dweba 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).

Bench: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter 17 Ali Vermaak 18 Brok Harris 19 Simon Miller 20 Ben-Jason Dixon 21 Willie Engelbrecht 22 Stefan Ungerer 23 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu.

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