Paul Roos have produced another diamond in the shape of flyhalf Damian Willemse, writes OLLIE KEOHANE.
In 2015, Jordan Chait captained SACS and had a fine season at flyhalf. It appeared likely he would be the Western Province Craven Week selection, but when the squads were announced, Chait found himself in the academy side.
It was evident something very special was going to be unleashed at flyhalf. And so it came to pass.
Paul Roos Gymnasium No 10 Damian Willemse was still in Grade 11 and starred in his elevated role before carrying that form into 2016, where he marshalled Western Province to a second successive Craven Week win.
Western Province are in control of his contract, but the Bulls have also taken an interest in Willemse.
Aside from his obvious ability, what makes Willemse exciting is that he is not the stereotypical South African flyhalf.
Playing behind some big packs in his last two years, it would have been easy for Willemse to feed off the forward pressure and exploit teams with his boot, as is largely the South African way.
Without disregarding a kicking game, Willemse lit up most matches with his Quade Cooper-like step and explosive speed. His skill lies in his ability and willingness to take the ball flat, elude the first line of defence and then assert himself physically.
Willemse shows good spatial awareness, runs impressive lines and is confident in contact, allowing him to throw rugby league-type offloads.
What South African rugby has found, is a flyhalf who runs with the aggression and physicality of a centre, the agility and vision of a fullback, yet understands and shows the tactical subtleties of a professional, thinking No 10.
Willemse is a special player. He embodies the excitement of young talent, and with the right nurturing and coaching, should thrive in the professional arena.
Willemse’s natural aptitude and instinct for the game must be encouraged. The basics of a flyhalf’s game can always be coached and improved upon. What cannot be coached is the X factor Willemse has.
As much as comparisons between South Africa and New Zealand are not much appreciated, they are pertinent, as the All Blacks are the pioneers of the modern game.
If South Africa are to embrace a new and exciting rugby style in coming years that can potentially match the All Blacks, schoolboy players of Willemse’s calibre need to learn in a rugby environment in which they are free to express themselves.
Willemse’s past two schools seasons bode well for the future of South African rugby. Hopefully the next few will see him remain an exciting a flyhalf.
– 2015, 2016 Craven Week
– 2016 Coca-Cola Craven Week Player of the Year
– 2015, 2016 SA Schools
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images