CAPE TOWN – Maybe Damian Willemse missing out on the World Cup isn’t the worst thing for his career.
Don’t get me wrong, he should be there. He should have been in the mix. But Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has hinted that that won’t be the case.
Following the Boks’ 23-18 win over Argentina in their “farewell Test” at Loftus over the weekend, Erasmus spoke about Willemse, Aphiwe Dyantyi and Warren Whiteley’s chances of catching that flight to Japan, saying the fact that none of them have played any Test rugby this year would make it “tough” to slot in in such a big year.
“Certain guys you just fast track. We are really fast-tracking Siya (Kolisi) in a big way. From 50 minutes of Currie Cup into Test match rugby, because he is our captain. It is a special case,” Erasmus said. “But with other guys it is just tough to go from one game against Griquas into Test match rugby and playing against the All Blacks. It is the same with a guy like Aphiwe Even with how good he is, he has not really played.
“Both of those guys and even a guy like Whiteley, because the squad is getting announced on 26 August, I just see it as tough for them to."
Prior to Willemse’s injury, the SA director of rugby made no secret of his plans to use Willemse at fullback come the global showpiece. It’s at No 15 where the Stormers flyhalf got his international exposure, with Erasmus saying that game time at fullback would help him when it comes to growth and assessing play from the back. But Willemse is a flyhalf, and should be used as such. And that wasn’t going to be the case in Japan.
Willemse is yet to produce a stunner of a performance at fullback, whereas he has shown many times that it’s in the busy, under-pressure flyhalf channel where the instinctive playmaker thrives. He flourishes in that traffic. A stint at fullback perhaps would have perpetuated the notion that it is a position he should be used at in the national frame. It perhaps would have reinforced it, at least where the Boks are concerned.
If it so happens that he really doesn’t make the 31-man cut, his performances for the Stormers and Western Province next year should again show that it is at No 10 where he belongs. It is at No 10 where he will continue to grow, and that should hopefully be enough for Erasmus to see him as a flyhalf going forward.
Playing players out of position is a habit that seldom really, really does the best for those guys, and it would be a pity if versatility becomes Willemse’s curse. Again, I believe Willemse should have been in the World Cup squad, but injury decided otherwise.
And if there’s one remotely positive way of looking at reasons as to why his omission would be a good thing, I hope the above is it.