The AOR team debates whether DHL Stormers flyhalf Damian Willemse should spend Vodacom Super Rugby’s June break helping Rassie Erasmus rebuild the Springboks, or the Junior Boks win a World Rugby U20 Championship.
Tank Lanning – Baby Bok
When comparing Wilemse to the other local Bok flyhalf contenders – Handre Pollard, Elton Jantjies and Rob du Preez – his stats more than stand up.
In Super Rugby, Willemse has made 145 more metres with ball in hand than Pollard – from only two more carries. Made five less handling errors, and over 300 more meters via the boot from only five more kicks. He has missed eight less tackles than Jantjies, while making seven dominant hits to the zero from the Jozi flyhalf.
He does not shy away from the tough stuff, does not concede too many turnovers, and has only missed two kicks all season. And he can step! He is without doubt, “the business”, and will most definitely be a Springbok, in all likelihood a very good one. Perhaps even great.
But not via debut against the second-best side in the world, with Springbok rugby at it’s lowest ebb, after just a few Super Rugby caps, while missing out on a chance to star for the Baby Boks at the Junior World Cup.
Why rush the process? In all likelihood, all he would be doing in June is picking up experience and getting a feel of the “Bok way” under Rassie Erasmus. Which would be valuable, but not at the expense of joining the likes of Aaron Cruden, George Ford, Jan Serfontein, Juarno Augustus and Pollard as one of the standout U20 players on the global stage.
Pressure is a part of playing pro sport, but with that, as you move through the ranks, comes the sheer joy of being able to master your trade at every level. The confidence Willemse will take from another stint with the Baby Boks will be invaluable for his career.
Zelím Nel – Test rugby
The official website tells me that we’re 17 months and some change away from the 2019 Rugby World Cup. South Africa starts the party with the challenge to down a bottle of tequila in the form of a gut-churning showdown against the All Blacks.
Between now and then, Erasmus has to find a starting flyhalf. In the heartfelt, soul-pop words of Hailey Knox, we “don’t got one”.
Rob du Preez is a greenhorn, Morne Steyn is 33, Pat Lambie must surely be one head-knock away from retiring and, though Elton Jantjies is written up as a mercurial playmaker, he gets low grades for athleticism, physicality, grit and consistency.
Jantjies disappears in the big moments; Handre Pollard is at his best under the bright lights. However, Pollard’s rugby dissertation is littered with gruesome injuries and, even though he’s been solid when healthy, the Bulls pivot has yet to match tactical proficiency and a direct running style with the kind of subtlety required to make any team’s attack a multi-dimensional threat.
The Boks are coming off two of the worst seasons in team history and there’s potential for further embarrassment at next year’s World Cup.
Ideally, Erasmus succeeds where others have failed and he gets the best out of one of SA’s veteran pivots. The reality is that, at flyhalf, Jantjies and Willemse tick boxes on the Strategic Transformation Plan and, in my opinion, the Boks have a much better chance of winning with the prodigiously-talented Stormers dynamo than the more experienced Lions playmaker.
If we agree that Willemse is likely to be on the front lines come next September, then surely it’s vital that the youngster is exposed to Test rugby as soon as possible? And that means, while his peers are chasing a Junior World Championship in France in June, Willemse must begin his Bok apprenticeship.
You’ve read what they think, now drop a comment to let us know where you stand in The Big Debate!