Damian Willemse has always been a player with X-Factor. Imagine a back-three wearing the 10 jersey with Le Roux-esque ball skills. That is Willemse.
However, as a flyhalf he was always lacking. He seemed to be a player with the skills and a multi-cylindral game but lacked several crucial aspects.
What were these aspects? He was a great flash 10, but as a general he did not seem so. His horrendous game in 2020 Green versus Gold was showing that.
His disorganised game showed poor positioning, a hurried and rushed game that ultimately resulted in errors.
Once he has fixed those problems, he could well be a firm second choice under the currently injured Handre Pollard.
His gameplay problems lay a lot in his distribution. Great for the highlights package, but he could not really keep the attack rolling phase after phase.
However, his recent performance against the Griquas causes me to think twice about writing him off like that.
The Stormers had recently signed Warrick Gelant, and Willemse and Gelant have formed a strong partnership in terms of playmaking.
Knowing he had a playmaker out wide with pace and tactical mastery, he got the ball wide to Gelant.
The Stormers first try for the Griquas comes off this.
It is purely Gelant’s agility and footwork that gets them the try, but the solid distribution from Damian Willemse got Gelant in that position with a tunnel pass through a screen of forwards. Gelant darts, beating defenders and gets the ball away in the wide channel with an offload, opening the defence for the Stormers to score.
His flashy play was prominent, with one pass building the space for Gelant to attack and the play almost comes off. The wide pass gets the angle for Gelant to dart, fix, and fire away a pass.However, a fumble from the winger ends the play.
His distribution was excellent against the Griquas, reminding me of Handre Pollard’s deadly passing. It may not be as good, but it is certainly up there.
On the other hand the Griquas are not a strong team in themselves, and perhaps the pressure was not up there for him to be hurried. That is the pessimistic side.
On the positive side, perhaps his distribution has really become as excellent as it seems, and he is one big step closer to being the prototypical Springbok flyhalf.
In my article on Springbok flyhalves, I concluded that the prototype for a Springbok flyhalf is all-round solidity.
The much-required skills of a good Springbok flyhalf; solid in these areas-distribution, goal-kicking, temperament, rugby IQ, tactical passing and kicking, and a solid rock in defence.
A very South African flyhalf is very good for South African rugby, and I am starting to wonder if Willemse is one.
He displayed tactical excellence in passing and his distribution was good. His tackling is generally solid so that is not a problem.
The tactical intelligence to link with Gelant was very effective. His temperament is where I think that he may have problems. This was a game against a weak side like the Griquas, and perhaps the reason why Willemse performed.
His goal-kicking has improved since that Green versus Gold Springbok Showdown and he will continue to do so at this rate.
As I said in my article on Springbok flyhalves, I also mentioned that they needed a creative edge in attack-Willemse has a brilliant one in his pace and running game.
If his good performance was really that he had become a better distributor, then he is well on his way to become the prototypical Springbok 10.
Only time will tell if he is truly capable of suiting the prototype and realising his potential.