‘Real pro’ Willemse ready to dazzle Wales at DHL Stadium

DHL Stormers flyhalf Damian Willemse is set to make his seventh appearance in the green and gold when the Springboks take on Wales this Saturday in the series decider. ©Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

DHL Stormers flyhalf Damian Willemse is set to make his seventh appearance in the green and gold when the Springboks take on Wales this Saturday in the series decider. ©Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Published Jul 12, 2022


Damian Willemse is poised to break into the Springbok starting line-up after a breakout season for the Stormers.

In just his fifth Test appearance, Willemse coolly slotted a 35-metre penalty after the hooter at Loftus Versfeld to deny Wales a historic win on South African soil and secure the Springboks a winning start to the 2022 season.

His left arm was heavily bandaged, a holdover from the injury suffered during the league phase of the United Rugby Championship which had ruled him out of the quarter-final and should have consigned him to the sidelines for a month.

“Damian’s just not scared of anything,” Stormers coach John Dobson said of Willemse’s composure to convert the last-minute penalty. “And the commitment he showed to play for us in the semi-final, when he should have been out for another three or four weeks, was extraordinary.”

Having missed the quarter-final victory against Edinburgh, Willemse stunned pundits, supporters and probably Ulster when he returned the following week for the semi-final - taking up position on the front lines, with an 80-minute performance for a 17-15 victory to book a home final.

“Western Province and the Stormers are important to Damian, and the Bok jersey means a lot to him, unquestionably,” Dobson added.


Questions around Willemse’s best position have harassed his short career; one frustrated by constant change.

The SA Schools and Junior Springbok made his Stormers debut in 2017. Over the course of the next four seasons, he lived out of a suitcase between playing flyhalf and fullback for the Cape franchise, mingled with sporadic appearances at No 15 for South Africa.

Willemse’s bold decision-making and blistering athleticism created an expectation about the Paul Roos phenom that the early years of his professional career did not meet - and by June last year, he’d been written off by detractors after conceding a yellow card in a 31-27 loss against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.

It was against the same opponents at Newlands in 2017 when Willemse beat Pierre Schoeman and Jannes Kirsten among four other Bulls defenders to score a sensational solo try that Dobson will never forget.

“I’ve been a fan of Damian’s ever since he scored that sick try that nobody saw coming,” he said. “I can’t reconcile how people expected Damian to be a world-beater at 19. It’s common knowledge that a flyhalf only gets to great rugby at 28 onwards - Dan Carter played some of his best rugby at 35.

“We backed a young guy, tried to give him exposure, and obviously with the way he plays - the style of being a big passer, stepper and off-loader - there are going to be errors. But it felt like he wasn’t given the time to grow, he had to be perfect from minute one.

“He’s just got better and better with time, and what people don’t see about Damian is his professionalism. Everyone sees how physical he is on the field, how he tackles with no respect for his body - but he’s a real pro and one of the best at studying opposition, knowing his detail and knowing the plan.”

The plan is for South Africa to dominate all comers at the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Willemse is ready to redeem his URC winner’s medal for a ticket to Paris as a starter after dazzling Wales at DHL Stadium.


AGE: 24

HEIGHT: 1.87m

WEIGHT: 91kgs


BOK DEBUT: 18 August, 2018 v Argentina


STORMERS DEBUT: 11 March, 2017 v Kings