CAPE TOWN – “Playing at fullback gets him to see things a bit differently, and he probably has more time and space to do the magic that he’s got.”
That is Stormers coach Robbie Fleck’s reasoning for shifting Damian Willemse to No 15 for this weekend’s crucial Super Rugby clash with the Lions at Newlands.
There has been much conjecture about where the prodigiously talented youngster will slot best into the Stormers backline.
Last week he ran out at No 10 at Loftus, but after struggling to cope with the Bulls line-speed in defence, the move to fullback could probably unlock his undoubted potential.
Equally, it is an open secret that Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus sees the Paul Roos Gymnasium product’s foreseeable national future at No 15.
With Dillyn Leyds ruled out this week with a thigh injury and Jean-Luc du Plessis also ready to resume the flyhalf duties after a long spell on the sidelines, it has opened the door for Fleck to make the shift.
“I think he (Willemse) is a quality flyhalf, and he still has all the makings to be a great flyhalf. And that is something he is still desperate to work on.
“Playing at fullback gets him to see things a bit differently, and he probably has more time and space to do the magic that he’s got. I think he is certainly capable of playing both,” Fleck said on Thursday at Newlands.
“As a young kid, it is important that he gets exposed to as much game time as possible – whether it’s in both positions.
“But we are certainly looking forward to see how he goes this weekend. It allows him a bit of freedom, and allows him to pop in at the first set of hands. He is keen to give it a crack, and he is excited about this weekend.”
Du Plessis’ inclusion is one of three enforced changes to the run-on team that were bulldozed in Pretoria last week.
Lock Salmaan Moerat (back) and wing JJ Engelbrecht (neck) have also been ruled out with niggling injuries, allowing for the return of Chris van Zyl and Sergeal Petersen’s Stormers debut.
The latter was sensational in last season’s Currie Cup, and Fleck is hoping the former Southern Kings and Cheetahs flyer can reproduce some of that form at a higher level now.
“It was always just a matter of time before Sergeal was brought back into the system now that he is over his injury.
“He has got ‘X-factor’. He brings something special to our backs. He sees space well and hopefully he can expose that well.
“This is the first time I have worked with Sergeal, but we saw what he did for Western Province in the Currie Cup, and we hope he will do the same for us,” said Fleck.
Springbok duo Eben Etzebeth and Frans Malherbe have also beefed up the Stormers bench, and are set to make an impact later in the game after recovering from injury recently.
15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 SP Marais, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ali Vermaak.
Bench: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Jaco Coetzee, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Joshua Stander, 23 Dan du Plessis.@ZaahierAdams