CAPE TOWN - Stormers assistant coach Paul Feeney says they are unsure whether Damian Willemse will be able to play against the Crusaders on Saturday (8.35am kickoff).
Willemse started at flyhalf against the Waratahs in the Stormers’ first match of their three-match tour to Australasia, and hobbled off the field with what looked like a thigh injury halfway through their 34-27 defeat in Sydney.
According to Feeney, they should have more clarity on the 19-year-old’s availability by on Wednesday.
“Damian has sustained a haematoma on his quad. It was quite a heavy knock and we will know in the next 48 hours whether he will be able to play against the Crusaders,” the coach responsible for the Stormers’ unstructured attack and defence said from Sydney on Monday.
“Let’s put it this way, if we were playing the game on Thursday he definitely would not be able to play, so we are really unsure at this stage.”
Should Willemse not be fit for the game in Christchurch, the Stormers will have two options for the No 10 jersey - George Whitehead, who came on when Willemse left the field and played the second half of the game against the Tahs, and Dillyn Leyds, who started on the wing at the weekend.
When the Stormers went on tour to New Zealand amid an injury crisis last year, injury to Robert du Preez in their first tour game saw Leyds stand in at flyhalf for the remaining fixtures. Then there’s also Dewaldt Duvenage, who can perhaps in more extreme emergency situations also provide cover at No 10.
When asked about his thoughts on Whitehead’s performance and the possibility of being without Willemse against a Crusaders team that beat the Chiefs 45-23 in Christchurch, Feeney said: “Obviously Damian is our preferred starting flyhalf, but we have confidence in George and I thought he did a reasonable job against the Waratahs. There was not one person who made a difference to what happened and the end result.”
While the Stormers’ flyhalf situation is worrying, another aspect that didn’t impress in Sydney was their lineout - particularly the last one, which saw an overthrow by replacement hooker Dean Muir land right in Waratahs hands and gave them an opportunity to score the winning try.
Apart from that fatal set-piece, there was also a botched lineout before that last one and a scrum on their own 22 that saw the Stormers put themselves under pressure. And although the Stormers’ lineouts became more of a concern once Ramone Samuels - the starting hooker Down Under - left the field and was replaced by Muir, Feeney said that Muir was not to blame for the lineout errors.
“Straight after the game the forwards had a meeting and guys like Pieter-Steph du Toit were quite direct about what went wrong. Dean threw two good darts perfect, exactly where they needed to be," he said.
"But unfortunately we had put substitute players on by then and the lifters and the jumpers just never co-ordinated properly. There was a misunderstanding. The hooker threw the ball exactly to where it should have been thrown."
Feeney’s comments regarding those final lineouts make sense, seeing that the lineout moves and calls should probably have been kept simple in the absence of the current first-choice hooker Bongi Mbonambi, whose appendix burst ahead of their game against the Jaguares. Feeney also said that they are going to have to be more polished against the defending champions.
“Some of the options we trained just never came off in the game, and some people got things wrong. We had a few options, but were unable to finish what we started.”