'Kid' Willemse igniting Stormers backline
Cape Town - Damian Willemse's man-of-the-match performance in the Stormers' 37-20 win over the Blues at Newlands this past Saturday went a long way towards easing the worries surrounding the Cape Town franchise this season.
The Stormers had returned from an Australasian tour that had yielded three straight losses, and their log position suffered as a result.
Defence on the tour remained a concern, while the forwards also struggled at set piece time, particularly in the lineout.
It left a number of question marks hovering over the team, but at Newlands on Saturday they put in a display that suggested that all is not lost in Cape Town and that the Stormers may in fact have the legs to get into the tournament playoffs.
Willemse was superb from start to finish, with his tactical and goal kicking near-faultless. His distribution and creativity were equally instrumental in a first half that saw the hosts race to a 24-3 lead at half-time.
But, equally important, Willemse put in some important tackles.
In total, the playmaker put in nine hits on Saturday, though he did slip five.
Together with Damian de Allende, Willemse has a huge responsibility when it comes to defending the all-important 10/12 channel.
There is obviously still room for improvement, but five rounds into the season the indication is that in Willemse the Stormers have a player who is living up to his reputation as one of the brightest prospects in South African rugby.
With Robert du Preez having left for the Sharks at the end of 2017 and with Jean-Luc du Plessis nearing the end of a lengthy injury lay-off, there had been justified concern over the Stormers' depth and ability at No 10.
Willemse, to a large extent, has quelled those fears.
"We don’t put him (Willemse) under a lot of pressure. He’s got a big responsibility on his hands," De Allende told media this week.
"At the moment he is our spark in the backline and he can get things going for us, but there is no pressure on him. We just want to let him express himself.
"He’s got good feet and he’s quite nippy as well. It’s been nice to play with him up until now and hopefully we can have more in the future."
De Allende has had his own defensive problems over the past two seasons, but he feels that his partnership with Willemse is improving every week.
"We connect well together," De Allende said.
"I know sometimes we do make bad reads every now and again, but I think we are well connected. We understand each other well.
"He’s also a brave kid so he takes a lot of pressure off me, so I don’t have to really worry about him."
The Stormers will be looking to build on their Blues win when they host the Reds at Newlands on Saturday.
Kick-off is at 17:15.