‘Rested’ Damian Willemse ready to rock for Stormers in the big games

Damian Willemse says the Stormers were ‘a bit unlucky’ on their European tour. Picture: BackpagePix

Damian Willemse says the Stormers were ‘a bit unlucky’ on their European tour. Picture: BackpagePix

Published Nov 30, 2023


After four defeats in a row, it is understandable if Stormers fans are worried about their favourite team.

But one of the men who can help bring them back on track, Damian Willemse, says now is not the time to panic.

John Dobson’s team could easily have won all four games on their European tour, but went down 20-9 to Glasgow, 20-17 to Benetton, 10-3 to Munster and then 31-24 to Cardiff last weekend.

They should be able to get back to winning ways in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash against Zebre in Stellenbosch (7.15pm kick-off), although they can’t afford to underestimate the Italian side despite the 61-19 thrashing they received from the Lions at Ellis Park last weekend.

But the Stormers need to sort out a number of issues in their own set-up, starting with the decision-making on attack, and then, surprisingly, their defence.

They slipped a number of tackles at Cardiff Arms Park on Friday, and will want to shut out Zebre this weekend.

It’s with ball in hand, though, where the Capetonians must show greater patience instead of forcing an offload in the tackle.

Willemse, who is back from his post-World Cup break this week alongside Manie Libbok, Deon Fourie and Frans Malherbe, was a stalwart in both URC campaigns that saw the Stormers win the inaugural title and reach the last final.

It will be interesting to see where Dobson slots him in this weekend – fullback may be the better bet, but he has featured mainly at inside centre for his franchise – but the 25-year-old utility back can’t wait to get going again.

“Not just for me, but for a lot of the guys, the break was definitely something that we all needed, especially after those tough knockout games – to come back home and celebrate and spend some time with friends and family,” Willemse told the Stormers website this week.

“But I’m really excited to get back to domestic duty and play for the Stormers. We’ve got some big games coming up, in the Champions Cup as well as the URC.

“It’s going to be an epic summer, especially going over to Europe to play there. So, really keen to get back in the Stormers jersey and do something special again with the team.

“We started really well against the Scarlets here at home, and we were a bit unlucky in all of our games on tour.

“But all teams go through phases like this, challenging times. The important thing for us is to get aligned as a team and make sure we work hard.

“It is something we’ve done before in the URC – winning those critical home games.

“We need to look at this situation logically and not be too hard on ourselves, and everyone is putting their shoulder to the wheel as a squad.”

Apart from beating the Sharks 12-10 in Parma, Zebre have improved vastly this season, losing 40-36 at home to Ulster and 34-31 away to the Ospreys, while they drew 22-22 against Cardiff at home.

Their two blow-out defeats were 54-29 to the Bulls in Italy, and 61-19 to the Lions in Johannesburg.

“Everyone is really excited to be back at home and playing at Danie Craven Stadium, it is always lovely to go and play there,” Willemse said.

“We want to put our best foot forward and build some momentum going into the other clashes that we have in the December schedule (after Zebre, the Stormers will face Leicester, La Rochelle, the Bulls and Sharks).

“We’ve all seen Zebre’s performances and how they’ve developed their game. They’ve got great players and a great coaching staff.

“When we went to Parma last year, it was a challenging game (the Stormers won 37-20) – and they’re going to come down here and try to cause an upset.

“We’ve come from a disappointing tour, so we need to make sure we study them and focus on our game. We expect Zebre to come out with a bang, and it’s going to be a great game.”