In Wiese and Willemse, the Stormers have two very exciting youngsters. No doubt about that. They both can play.
I believe it’s been one of South African rugby’s problems over the past few years - this obsession with protecting youngsters when they clearly are ready to step into the big time. As the old saying goes, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. There are so many examples of Australian and New Zealand teams backing guys at Super Rugby level when they are still below 20. And many of them have gone on to become real stars of the game.
With the selection of Wiese, Fleck has already bucked this “SA trend.” He has mentioned two things quite a few times this season; rewarding good form and giving youngsters a chance. And he’s done both of those things up until now.
He gave Willemse a chance against the Kings, and we all know how that turned out ... he was brilliant in the five minutes that he was on. He’s also given young loosie Jaco Coetzee a shot, and scrumhalf Justin Phillips has also had a run.
And then there’s Wiese, who started against the Cheetahs and Chiefs. I mean, it doesn’t get much bigger than the Chiefs. And he started in both matches ahead of Nizaam Carr, who came off the bench to replace him in the two contests.
So if Fleck was prepared to throw Wiese into the Super Rugby cauldron (and I give him a long hearty round of applause for that) should he not do the same with Willemse?
Yes, there has probably been a lot more pressure on Willemse, given that there has been so much talk and hype about him since last year’s Craven Week Player of the Year dazzled at junior level. He’s done a lot of that. So Fleck might be a bit more cautious with him.
You can also argue that his position, flyhalf, is a tough one for a young guy to deal with, but it’s not like the loose trio is a picnic either. And especially against a loose trio like the Chiefs’. But again, Wiese did well there.
The fact that there’s not a lot of depth in the loose trio might also be a reason why Fleck has gone with Wiese in two matches, seeing that there’s only Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Nizaam Carr, Siya Kolisi and Wiese currently available there, and Fleck also has to stay on top of things in terms of player management and rest periods. Also, Rynhardt Elstadt and Johan du Toit are unavailable due to injury, while at No 10, Fleck has Robert du Preez and Kurt Coleman and then, of course, Willemse (with Jean-Luc du Plessis injured). So there’s a bit more to work with. Plus Du Preez has been in great form.
Wiese has shown that he can perform, and he’s done so against tough opposition, to say the least. But now Willemse also needs that chance. A chance to show that he is another young guy who can perform at this level.
Fleck has gotten a lot of things right so far, in fact, I can’t think of anything that he has gotten terribly wrong. His style of coaching, his man management and the whole vibe that he sends out has been big part of the Stormers’ dream run so far this year.
Wiese’s performance is a sign that there’s not just a lot of unnecessary fuss over these kids, but that they’re definitely worth it. I just think Willemse should also get a chance to show that just like Wiese, he can be trusted to perform when the pressure in the Super Rugby kitchen is at its hottest.