Coach reveals Damian Willemse’s Stormers future will be at 12

Earlier this season Willemse made his 50th appearance for the Stormers when they took on Zebre at the Danie Craven Stadium, with the youngster having enjoyed a real standout campaign in the United Rugby Championship this season.

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The 23-year-old has come of age over the last couple of years, having established himself as a key member of the Bok team, while remaining committed to the Stormers despite plenty of interest from other clubs.

In an interview with Sport24, coach John Dobson has now shared his thoughts on where Willemse’s future position will be at the Stormers.

“We are definitely light around the 12/15 area once (versatile Willemse) is off with the Boks, and with Warrick Gelant leaving. I am disappointed with the Rikus (Pretorius) decision to go to Japan, too … he has had big Springbok dreams and he could have got there.

“We probably retarded that quest a bit with (seasoned Welsh international) Jamie Roberts coming in during Super Rugby 2020, then the pandemic. The big thing about the pandemic was we were playing one-competition rugby, so the younger guys never got proper game-time. It’s hard to be capped from Japan; I am very disappointed he goes…

“When he’s available to us, I do see Damian not floating between 15 and 12 nowadays … I think the right thing, especially with Rikus going, is Damian (settling) at 12, while we have Clayton Blommetjies (from the Cheetahs) arriving as a good home-guard at fullback.

“It’s become ever clearer, Damian’s level of play at 12 is fantastic. We know all about his step, but his defence, the way he chases kicks, the aerials, the bravery there … it’s been remarkable.

“But we’re still then one player light, really – losing Warrick is a heavy blow – and we need to address this also.“Five, fifteen, twelve … they are areas we must seek to stiffen up in.”

Willemse was 18 when he made his senior debut for the Stormers in the 2017 Super Rugby season

Recently, Dobson also reflected on the playmaker’s journey over the last few years.

“In 2017, when he made his Currie Cup debut, we went to the Kimberley mine museum. You could pay R40 to find out a bit more about the miners. It was right near the Big Hole. The only player who did that was Damian Willemse,” Dobson said.

“He was reading a 700-page book about World War II and Hitler in 2017. If there is any charitable cause, any player’s birthday … let alone what he put in on the training and playing field, he is probably one of the most special people I have had the chance to work with.

“Anybody who doubts Damian Willemse, I would tell them to meet him or watch him closely on the rugby field or watch him in training. We are extremely proud of where he is. I think there is a question, which is valid, why would other unions come so hard to get him? Then you have to ask another question. Why would Damian Willemse turn them down? It’s not a reflection on us. It’s a reflection of what his passion is and his belief in rugby in this region.

“He grew up here in the hard lands of Strand. He has done incredibly well, so I am proud of his 50th game.”

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