Test rugby or Baby Boks for Willemse?

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!

- Big Debate

Let's chat

  • Lions Fan '82

    Let him play in the Jnr world cup! Age level rugby only lasts so long, once its over you can never go back. Don’t deny him the oppertunity! And the fact that the Snr Boks are struggling for a flyhalf should not be a 19year-olds fault or problem. He will play for the Springboks, I have no doubt, but his time will come.
    All our flyhalves are fragile and injury prone, is it not maybe because we sent them all to the front-line too young? Will we not learn

    • Ashken

      Nah dont think u get it…Damian is better than all the fly-halfs u get in the superrugby in our country…Why I say that is that…He has more skills and experiance than any ofbthe other South African fly halfs from today…He is brave…Elton Jantjies is scared to tackle…Handre Pollard is losing his skills of all the injuries he gets…And who stands?…*DAMIAN WILLEMSE*…Give the young star a chance and see what diffrance he makes on the field than you can say if he must wait for his time to come…He already proven himself as a youngster…Why didnt u say this stuff when Patrick Lambie got an oppertunity when he was 19 yrs old?

  • Chris Mouton

    I fully agree with Tank. Remember how people went on about Curwin Bosch last year? Then the Junior Boks happened and showed that he still has much to learn. Let Willemse cut his teeth at the Junior Boks. That’s already international rugby and would be more pressure than Super Rugby as they’re playing against the best teams in the world. Develop him for 2023 and at least let him come through a Super Rugby year unscathed. Sure, let him get used to the Bok setup, but for goodness sakes, don’t play him yet. Let Pollard and Jantjies deal with the position until Willemse is ready.

    • Mark Kruger

      Well said. He must still play in the junior ranks.

  • Arch Rautenbach

    Let Willemse go through the ranks. The Junior Boks can add so much for him. How many times have we seen really good players get pushed too early only for them to fall flat. Why push him as early as June? There a Rugby Championship where he can get use to the Springbok set up and end of year tour. The end of year tours use to be where we gave fringe players a chance to show what they got. Why have that changed?

  • Angelo Briesies

    i disagree. Curwin was and still is over rated. Willemse is the real deal. But keep in mind super rugby still has a long way to go. If Willemse is still the best 10 before June. Include him into the bok setup. I would think Rassie would pay him for the Wales test. We need a good 9 in my opinion.

    • Gavin Cairns

      Apparently you either have blinkers on or simply don’t watch the Sharks games. Bosch has put in a number of great performances this year and has turned the corner with his defence which has improved tenfold.

      The kid comes loaded with talent…..but it seems you’re still watching last seasons re-runs and refuse to see it? Be thankful that we now have a couple of youngsters with talent on the way up…….

  • Ulrich

    He should get another season under his belt, perhaps tour with the year-end squad, but not play.

    Play him in the warm up games to the RWC next year and then give him 20-30 minutes as a bench player during the tournament every game. That way when 2023 rolls around he will have experienced one before and he will still be somewhat of an unknown entity at least to northern teams during the 2019 edition.

  • Nick.

    Why don’t you ask him?

  • Anton

    I think he has shown some good stats uptill now for a 19 year old, but don’t rush a young guy like him into the Springbok setup, he will get his chance sooner than later. Let’s see at the end of the SR season how his stats looks and then make a desition whether he will be a good lieutenant in the backline.

  • Pietie Bal

    All I know is that Willemse will be wasted at the baby boks if they play the same kick at all costs game that coach Chean Roux played in last years final!!

  • Barry Smith

    For heaven sakes get a grip! He’s had 2 or 3 good games at Super Rugby level. He looks to be a good prospect for the future, but let’s discuss it this time, next year!

    • Chris Louw

      Absolutely agree, yesterday’s game against the bulls was not all bells and whistles for Willemse.

  • Dean

    Let him play in the Jnr World Cup! It would be sad to see him miss such an opportunity. If he were to be picked for the squad against England, he would most likely not start anyway. Jantjies and Pollard must prove they belong on the international stage.

  • Ashley Marais

    You are never too young or too old to play for your country. If you the best, then you deserve to be there. The All Blacks are well known for blooding young talent. Just by the way Richie McCaw was just 19 when he first donned the silver fern… today he is Sir Richie. From what is out there, Willemse is the only flyhalf that keeps the opponent guessing the whole game. he is the full package. Period.

  • Rant

    Some excellent arguments for both sides.

    If over the next few local derby’s he is better than or just as good as the incumbents (Pollard and Jantjes) then get him on the training camp. If he impresses there, put him on the bench against Wales as we need one of our 10’s to remain at home to be fresh. And if he keeps impressing put him on the bench against England in the 2nd test.

    On the other hand, if the Springbok camp shows him to need some improvement, then off to the Junior champs he goes, and hopefully gets the player of the comp award.

    The way I see it, we have 4 very good flyhalves:
    Jantjes, Pollard, Du Preez and Willemse (Lambie is in France, Bosch is probably better at 15). We will need to manage our players well for the trip to USA to ensure we have our strongest team fresh for England, but Wales is a must win.

    We can’t just say “Yep, he’s ready” but we also cannot say “Nope he’s too young”. It isn’t black and white at this stage, we just need to see how it plays out.

    • Malcolm Plaatjies

      Well said hope rassie takes this aproach

  • Chris Louw

    I am speaking with the benefit of hindsight here, but yesterday’s game where the Stormers got klapped by the bulls with Willemse playing on the back foot and making quite a few mistakes showed that he needs a bit more time to hone his skills and the baby boks could be the place for him to build on his already impressive skill set..

    Its blatantly obvious that he has the talent but the unforced errors Willemse made yesterday with missed kicks at the posts and that bad kick from the restart as well as numerous benign attempts to chip over the bulls rush defense is a clear indication that he could only benefit from more game time in a less pressurised game situation. I would say that he is a half polished rough diamond at this stage and at 19 years old there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    Pollard easily showed how much more capable he is and I doubt that Rassie, who was at Loftus to watch the game, would have come to any other conclusion.

    My two bok flyhalves would be Pollard and Robert du Preez, Jantjies is a defensive liability and is way too inconsistent to continue as the bok pivot.

    • Stanley

      Don’t forget that we saw the same kind of mistakes from Morne Steyn when the Boks were under pressure against the Aussies. And he is WAY more experienced. Barrett can’t kick when the pressure is on, but the AB’s and Canes know to play around his strengths and supplement his weaknesses by using other players. SA Rugby needs to learn to ‘think’

    • Barry Smith

      Hallelujah!! That out the way, prospects for the Wales game become quite exciting, as we may well see some of the players that were sadly overlooked in the Coetzee Era!

  • Stanley

    Tank Lanning – why must you mess up a good article with calling Jantjies and Willemse ‘tick boxes on the Strategic Transformation Plan’ players? I agree though that Willemse should actually play for the Baby Boks and then ‘big’ Boks. Should he miss the 2019 WC so be it, there is still another opportunity or two. But then again thinking back to Frans Steyn I think he can actually do it at the tender age of 19. I hope Rassie will just be clever enough and not burden him with goal kicking duties in pressure games. But who then? We don’t have a Montgomery at 15?

    • Rant

      “why must you mess up a good article with calling Jantjies and Willemse ‘tick boxes on the Strategic Transformation Plan’ players?” this is such a ridiculous question. Honestly, we all know the government requirement of 50% players of colour in the team. So it HAS to be a positive. He didn’t say its the only reason they are there, he simply stated that as fantastic world class players, they are also positive selections for the government stipulation. Get a grip.

  • Morne

    Let him go to the Junior Boks,he has a lot of rugby left.Are we that desperate to make hasty decisions?Yes ok,we are…But having said that ,all that has to happen is for Jantjies and Pollard to damwell pull up their socks and play like they can
    COACHES!! CONDITIONING STAFF!!!! THIS IS YOUR WORK

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