Willemse is your Bok 10 – Jake

Jake White

Damian Willemse is definitely the real deal. I had heard a lot about him from Johan Rupert, because his daughter Caroline is the one who found Damian and paid for him to go to Paul Roos, but it’s only now that I’m back in South Africa on holiday that I’ve been able to watch him in Super Rugby.

He ticks all the boxes and what I like most is that he’s quick. I know people say that he’s brave on defence and he kicks nicely, but one thing that South Africa has lacked for a long time is a really quick No 10.

That’s why I picked Jaco van der Westhuyzen at flyhalf for the Springboks. If you’ve got a quick 10, then defenders stand narrow to close him down and that opens space for the guys outside. In Round 4, Willemse picked up a loose ball just outside his 22 and ran away from the Highlanders to score in the corner. Having a quick flyhalf is something that would change the way teams defend against us.

Bok coach Rassie Erasmus will go to another two World Cups in the next six years and it’s a no-brainer – Willemse is the guy for the No 10 jersey.

If we go with a flyhalf who is now 19, then we’ll be in a situation similar to what England had with Jonny Wilkinson, Australia had with Stephen Larkham and the All Blacks had with Dan Carter – the same 10 for a long time.

That continuity is very important. Van der Westhuyzen started 17 consecutive Tests for me and I remember seeing a stat at the time that showed how out of the ordinary that was for South Africa.

The likes of Joel Stransky, Henry Honiball, Jannie de Beer, Braam van Straaten and Louis Koen had to make do with a handful of consecutive Tests in the saddle. And over the past five years, we’ve had Elton Jantjies, Handre Pollard, Morne Steyn and Pat Lambie. We got the best performances out of everyone when Fourie du Preez and Butch James played nine or 10 matches together in a row, then that combination came right.

Picking a youngster in such a high-profile position does come with its challenges, but they’re nice challenges if he’s managed properly.

Whenever I handed the flyhalf his jersey before a Test match I always said, “accept the fact that you will be criticised more than me!” As the Bok flyhalf, when the team wins it’s because you “were a general”, and when they lose it’s because you “never took charge”. If the coach spends time with Willemse and explains that to him, and the player accepts it, then it won’t influence him. A guy like Jaco used to rush out on a Sunday morning to see what rating he got in the newspaper – he’d get a 4 or 5 in Rapport and that would affect him.

Self-confidence doesn’t seem to be a problem for Willemse. Last year he made no secret of his expectation to start for the Stormers in 2018 despite facing competition from Rob du Preez and Jean-Luc du Plessis.

That’s a very good sign. Some of the best youngsters I’ve coached had that trait – Frans Steyn and John Smit didn’t want to hear about the pecking order, they expected the coach to pick the best player now. Often coaches will say, “your time will come” but it doesn’t work like that with elite talent, because if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.

Frans Steyn was 19 and he played in a World Cup final. The only reason you would pick a teenager is because he’s got that self-belief, otherwise he wouldn’t be there as a 19-year-old.

You want that attribute to be part of his makeup, but you also want him to understand that there’s a responsibility that comes with playing at 10 – you’re the general and you’re in charge and you should be able to tell anybody anything because you’re controlling the game. It’s a fine line because you don’t want the guy to think he’s more important than everyone else; you want him to understand that he’s part of the team.

Keeping him away from the media can help with that. It can become very difficult to do that because everyone wants to know who the kid is and, for the player, the more exposure he gets, the more likely he is to get endorsements.

Willemse will need the support of senior players; who you put around him is important because they can guide the youngster. Calling on older and wiser guys, like Frans Steyn and Ruan Pienaar, would help shield Willemse and reduce some of the pressure, on and off the field.

One of the fears is that there have been young players who have got that opportunity and burnt out. They got overexposed and started believing their own press. That’s the challenge when you’re dealing with a sportsman like that because you don’t want him to end up being someone who plays three Tests and then fizzles out or, as they say, “vroeg ryp, vroeg vrot”.

Willemse has the potential to be the Bok 10 for the forseeable future, if we manage him with the support of senior players, many of whom are playing overseas.

- Jake White

Let's chat

  • Chris Mouton

    Yes, the guy has talent. Mismanagement of talented players have long been a problem with SA Rugby. I agree, we need to mentor such players, even if it is with ex-players. Will Rassie be able to influence this? I surely hope so!

  • Nicholas

    With DW and Embrose Papier clear future stars, surely they should be placed in the same union. They should be our Springbok half-back combo by 2020.

  • Nick.

    White is spot on here. The kid’s the real deal.

    Hopefully the public expectation and the superlatives we use to describe him will not effect him too much.
    Look at what a humble individual Wilkinson is.

  • Albert Hoffman

    haha what garbage from Joke White. One good game and now he must be the bok 10. Typical Joke white.

    • Chad

      I think he is a BlueBull!!!

    • Andrew


      This kid is my hero.

    • Brendan Scullard

      I dont know what rugby youve been watching, but what Jake White has said here is spot on! This kid has all the attributes to become a bok number 10! Great on defence..even better on attack. He can offload..take a gap..with pace to burn. But has to be managed properly or he will end up like derek hougaard and handre pollard.

    • Louis

      One good game? Where have you been?

    • Anton

      About every game this year he was a standout. Do you even watched the games of Stormers?

  • Barry Smith

    Similar words were used to describe all of the current incumbents when they burst onto the seen as teenagers – Lambie, Pollard, Jantjies! We need to give this a bit more time in my view!

  • Lions Fan '82

    Johan Goosen was the real deal, even before he left school. Look what happened to him. He couldn’t play for the Jnr Boks because he got called up to the Snr Boks as a kid fresh out of school. Got picked to play against the All Blacks and he got broken. He was never the same again.
    Lets see if we’ll make the same mistake again by not managing him properly. Good article uncle Jake, the question is WILL he be managed (and protected in some sense)?? We know what should be done, but lets wait and see.

  • Nick

    Willemse has played more than ‘one good game’ Albert.
    Shooting the messenger is fine, but ‘…Willemse gaan diep spore in ons rugby trap’ Let’s talk a year or two out.

  • Nick

    Would pick Jaaintjies and Willemse as our 10’s NOW. Pollard should move to 12.

  • Christoph

    Okay so we know we need to look after the ‘young new talented flyhalf’. Can we just DO IT for a change?!

  • Niel Tyler

    When will Jake realise that Steyn is a has been and Ruan Pienaar a never was as a Bok. Utilise what we have now not what we had then. Stop living in the past Jake!

    • Barry Smith

      Ruan Puenaar has 88 test caps and two European player of the year awards! Show a little respect!

  • Amos

    World Cup 2019 Bok Backline

    9. Embrose Papier
    10. Damian Willemse
    11. Apiwe Dyanti
    12. Damian De Allende
    13. Lionel Mapoe
    14. Warrick Gallant
    15. Curwin Bosch

    • Edwin

      Allende????? Can’t pass
      Mapoe??? To old
      Bosch??? Can’t tackle

    • Boeta

      Jy kan darem maar nonsens kwytraak Amos

  • Adrian Lackey

    So Rupert’s daughter ‘discovered,’ him. How utterly rdiculous. Whitey mentions nothing about Willemse’s family, community, his brother Stormers hooker, Samuels, etc. He must have fallen from the sky. Whitey prejudicial slip is showing. Pathetic and sad.

  • Gerhard Coetzee

    Jake knows his rugby,believe me and those negative comments are always the people running our rugby down with comments that makes no sense.Believe Jake,Willemse is going to be one of the great 10’s to wear the jersey.Elton plays well at Super Rugby level with the Lions running rugby and that is it.When the game is loose he does well but when it comes to test rugby which when the game is more tighter with a rush defence he does not have the ability to read the game and and the ability to get the team out of trouble and to close the game out in the last part of the match when it matters.Another youngster that is also very talented at 10 is Bosch and I have watched them both playing for the under 21 Boks and he will also become a very good prospect at 15 or 10 as well. Jake I have watched your coaching carrier over the years since Jeppe Boys and have a great admiration for your knowledge and pasion of the game and a pity that SA Rugby did not acknowledge your expertise then we would have been at par with New Zealand and not trying to catch up to the top international teams.

  • Dean

    Don’t rush him in too early, it happened with Goosen and Pollard. Let him have a full Super Rugby season, preferably two before you throw him into the big time. The flyhalf position is well covered right now. Have him as part of the squad and playing off the bench first, like the AB’s do with youngsters. The same can be said of Dyantyi, Papier and Bosch.

  • Alberto

    Typical Jake White: DW has not been anywhere near tested at the top level – but he will be the man…put somebody like Ruan Piennaar next to him…WTF?? Your claim to fame is your success with

  • Nick

    Willemse is a talent, regardless of White sucking up to Anton Rupert and co or what White says. Willemse will be a Bok and a good one REGARDLESS of White thinks.

    White has hardly identified anything here, he has just stated the obvious. Willemse is a damn good player. Rassie will pick him at some stage anyway, And he certainly wont care what Jake thinks.

    White just working on being the wise old sage of rugby that knows everything, ala Oubaas Markotter.

    What starts getting bizarre and what got my attention in this article is the next suggestion that the kid specifically needs the mentoring of FRANS STEYN and RUAN PIENAAR……..Specifically. Why? Fly them over and get them to hang out with Li’l Damian? Why are they such good mentors? Currently they are not even in the bok team. ‘Senior players’… Would they drop their high earning gigs to do such a thing?

  • Gerhard Coetzee

    It is very easy to criticize if you have not coached at that level and Jake has been one of our best coaches and his record speaks for itself with a World Cup under his belt.I enjoy his comments which is backed up with his experience as a coach at international level.Lets keep the comments positive guys.

  • Nick

    So wer’e not allowed to criticize Jake because he’s coached at ‘that level’ Gerhard? Not even light banter?
    I guess the same would apply to big Jake Zuma. None of us has been at’ that level’ either. Your logic is faulty. At ‘that level’ criticism goes with the territory, particularly when you’re fond of spouting your opinions publicly.

    Bull**** is Bull**** at any ‘level’.

    Nice one Gerhard.

  • jackson

    in nz do we see the allblack selectors say that stephen perfoeta should be a future superstar just because he went good against the british and irish lions, no jake white it doesnt work like that

  • Naas.

    Willemse is not on Superugby level yet. Give him time. He might be ready in 2 – 3 year’s time.

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