Willemse at pivot for WP
Gavin Rich
October 11, 2018

Damian Willemse has been confirmed as the flyhalf for a Western Province team that will head to Loftus this weekend showing four changes from the combination that posted 50 points against the Sharks last time out.

Although he has played most of his rugby for the Stormers and WP at pivot, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has looked at the 2016 South African Schools flyhalf as a fullback and it was in that position that he made his appearance as a replacement in the narrow loss to the All Blacks last Saturday.

However, although WP coach John Dobson would no doubt have tried his best to accommodate Willemse in the position where the Boks would prefer to see him play at present, it makes sense for the 20-year-old to go back to No 10 given that Dillyn Leyds, the regular fullback, has been one of the WP danger-men in an impressive Currie Cup run so far.

Willemse displaces Josh Stander for the match against the Blue Bulls, but the former Bulls age-group player will still get to be part of the match day squad and should get game time as a replacement. That would be a scenario that should suit Stormers coach Robbie Fleck, as the Cape side desperately needs to create flyhalf depth before the next Super Rugby season.

While Willemse will probably be the Stormers’ first choice No 10, what happens if he is injured? The Stormers will be hoping to have Jean-Luc du Plessis in the mix, but the son of former Bok wing Carel is struggling to beat groin problems that may well continue to hamper him for the duration of his career.

Willemse is one of four members of the Bok squad that did duty for the home leg of the Rugby Championship who will play for Province in Pretoria. Ruhan Nel, who has played every WP game anyway and was released by the Boks for the recent clash with the Sharks, continues at outside centre, while Sikhumbuzo Notshe is back in the Province team as the No 8.

He replaces Jaco Coetzee, the last minute replacement for Juarno Augustus in the Sharks game. Augustus is not over the injury that kept him out of that game and Coetzee has been included on the bench. Augustus is expected to be back in the selection mix for next week’s home semifinal against a still to be determined opponent.

The other Bok returnee is tighthead prop Wilco Louw, who will be celebrating his landmark 50th cap for WP at the ground where he played his early age-group rugby. The Bok not chosen this week is hooker Bongi Mbonambi, who has been given a rest but will definitely be available to play in the semifinal.

The changes don’t stop at the return of the Boks. Dan du Plessis will make his first start of the season as the inside centre, and the prospect of Willemse, Du Plessis and Nel playing alongside one another is an exciting one for WP fans.

With Jano Vermaak not available this week, Herschel Jantjies will start at scrumhalf, with Paul de Wet providing cover from the bench. Jantjies and Justin Phillips are the men believed to be battling it out to be recognised as the next in line Stormers scrumhalf behind Vermaak, but with Dobson opting for a five/two split between forwards and backs, as he tends to do for matches on the highveld, De Wet’s pace and ability to double as a wing no doubt weighed in his favour.

DHL Western Province team: Dillyn Leyds, Sergeal Petersen, Ruhan Nel, Dan du Plessis, SP Marais, Damian Willemse, Herschel Jantjies, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Ernst van Rhyn, Kobus van Dyk, JD Schickerling, Chris van Zyl (captain), Wilco Louw, Scarra Ntubeni, Ali Vermaak.

Replacements: Chad Solomon, Caylib Oosthuizen, Neethling Fouche, Salmaan Moerat, Jaco Coetzee, Paul de Wet, Josh Stander.

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