By Nick Said
STELLENBOSCH, South Africa (Reuters) – Gifted South African back Damian Willemse is ready to debut in the Rugby Championship but is unlikely to get a run in his favoured flyhalf position, according to Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus.
The 20-year-old is regarded as the top backline talent to emerge in South Africa for years and had a solid 2018 Super Rugby season in the number 10 jersey for the Stormers.
He has been included in the Bok squad for the Southern Hemisphere championship that gets under way this month with home and away matches against Argentina, but his coach is not ready to throw him into the flyhalf berth ahead of incumbent Handre Pollard and the inconsistent Elton Jantjies.
“No flyhalf under the age of 24 has ever won a World Cup,” Erasmus told reporters on Monday. “The number 10 is your quarterback. He is the guy who has to take control. At this point it may be a better idea to play Damian at 15 (fullback) where there is less pressure.
“He is physically ready for test rugby, even at the age of 20. He will get his chance against Argentina.”
The Bok coach added it was a “no-brainer” to retain loose-forward Siya Kolisi as captain, despite the return from injury of former skipper Warren Whiteley.
“Now that all the hoo-ha of him getting the captaincy has died down and now that it’s a more comfortable thing for him, we may see Siya taking his game to another level,” Erasmus said, adding he could switch Kolisi from openside to blindside flank.
“I’ve always thought he was a stronger counter-rucker (than fetcher),” the coach said. “With his lineout ability, he’s an excellent option at blindside flank. It will be nice to build a back row around a player like Siya.”
The call-up of uncapped Bulls openside Marco van Staden may have something to do with that as Erasmus admits to being a keen admirer of his qualities, along with veteran Francois Louw, who could vie with Whiteley for a place at number eight with Duane Vermeulen not considered as he takes up a contract in Japan.
“Marco would have started the tests against England (in June) if not for injury,” Erasmus said.
“I coached Flo (Louw) quite a bit and I know what he can offer in that role.”
The Boks start their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina in Durban on Aug. 18.
(Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Ed Osmond)