South African rugby fans are writing off young prodigy Damian Willemse in a sharp reversal of public opinion
Damian Willemse has been a known emerging talent of South African rugby for a long time, as an electric schoolboy player with a seemingly unstoppable step. He quickly rose through the ranks – South African schools in 2015, to the under-20 side in 2017 to become a capped Springbok in 2018.
Despite being used as a 10 at club level, Willemse has been used as a fullback by Rassie Erasmus for the Springboks in three of his six tests so far. As a utility on the bench, he has also covered centre and wing but is yet to feature as a 10 for the national side.
In the Springbok Showdown clash, Willemse had the chance to show his wares at 10 against the experienced Elton Jantjies but left fans convinced his future lies in another position with an unconvincing performance for the Gold side.
That has led to a severe reversal in fan’s minds over Willemse as a flyhalf prospect, with a swift response online with fans ‘falling out of love’ after having ‘too much faith in Damian Willemse’.
Other fans urged the doubters to have some patience, as the pre-season clash gave the players very little time to prepare and find some form.
One fan compared Willemse’s performance to Handre Pollard against Argentina in just his second test back in 2014, saying writing off Willemse is a ‘tad premature’ as Pollard was able to kick well during the World Cup six years later.
Another said Willemse had ‘too much talent’ not to be patient with him, and that an extended run in the 10 jersey would pay dividends.
Springbok assistant coach Deon Davids defended his young flyhalf, confident that he will come out stronger next time.
‘We all know that Damian is a special talent and he can win you games,’ Davids said.
‘Obviously, rugby players go through the cycle where they maybe don’t have one of the best nights and he just didn’t have one of his best evenings.’
At just 22-years-old, Willemse has more experience than most players his age and is yet to reach the peak of athletic ability. It would be surprising to see the Springboks give up on him when he could potentially develop into a multi-position player in the same mould of New Zealand’s 10-15 hybrids in Damian McKenzie and Beauden Barrett, who can start in either position at test level.
With regular starter Handre Pollard injured for the foreseeable future, there is a higher chance of receiving more game time with the Springboks should they find a way to play in this year’s Rugby Championship.
Erasmus has indicated that Elton Jantjies is the preferred option to fill that role, but that would open the bench spot for a reserve flyhalf like Willemse to see some action at the back end of games.
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