try out maverick stormers flyhalf at outside centre
The thing about a maverick on a sports field is that he stands out.
He’s usually the guy that gets the crowd on their feet with a moment of magic to win the match for his team.
Dis dieselfde ou wat volgende naweek uitgejou word when his push for brilliance doesn’t produce the desired result.
Willie le Roux is a maverick – he does what he thinks is best.
And last year he was one that the South African rugby public would have thrown with tomatoes and kissed within two seconds of each other. When it comes to these manne, all sports fans have a bit of Tourettes syndrome.
Kyk hulle maar mooi when you watch a game again – one moment he’s the best on the planet and later in the same game, you’ll be saying: “I didn’t know what the coach was thinking playing him”.
That brings me to Damian Willemse. He’s still the most talented player our country has produced in recent years, despite his horror show in the No.10 jumper in the Springbok Showdown at Newlands last weekend.
Willemse is a maverick – the sort of player who can produce magic when his confidence allows him to.
Now if you turn back the clock to pre-coronavirus, Willemse was also having a frustrating time as Stormers flyhalf.
Coach John Dobson then said they worked hard on his game during lockdown.
Here’s the problem I have: having a maverick at No.10 can be frustrating to the player and to fans alike.
With the added responsibility of running the game plan and directing traffic in the flyhalf position, the maverick doesn’t have time to do the most important thing: see an opportunity where he can be selfish and change the game with a moment of brilliance.
He now has to consider bringing in those around him and getting the team in the right areas of the field with his kicking game.
On top of that, he also has to worry about lining up a shot at goal, knowing the whole world is watching this particular aspect of his game.
I reckon that’s why Willemse was moved to fullback by Rassie Erasmus last year – to allow him space and freedom to put one of the best sidesteps in the world on display to good use.
If I coached a team that would cross swords with playing him at flyhalf, I’d be in his face, cut down his space and frustrate the living crap out of him. I reckon that’s the thinking of other coaches too.
And yes, he demands special attention like that because he is such a good rugby player.
So what would my solution be? Try him at outside centre.
Equipped with a great understanding of the game and the ability to read the game, coupled with a big frame, I think Willemse will produce the goods on a weekly basis in the No.13 jumper.
Yes, at 13, not 12.There he will be required to organise the defence, which he can do.
But just imagine his “maverickness” in action when given open space or put into a semi-gap by a big bulldozing centre on his inside.
Or imagine him getting a skip pass from Handre Pollard in the Green and Gold out wide, with five metres between him and the defender and a player or two on his outside.
I’d back a five-pointer nine times out of 10.
There is much more to playing in the position than that, but I really think Willemse will be unstoppable at 13 and I even suggested it to ex-Stormers assistant coach Paul Feeney a couple of years ago.
Now it’s not that Willemse is not a good flyhalf. I have said before that I believe he has the ability to be the best in SA, but he is not at the level of Pollard and Elton Jantjies yet.
And my five-bob says it has to do with responsibility and pressure.
Take it away and allow the guy to play his game. Not from 15 where he will have to wait to get his hands on the ball, but at 13 where he will get to do so countless times and with more space than at 10.
We’ve seen Le Roux , who also used to be a flyhalf, slotting in at first receiver at times with the Boks when the situation requires him to do so. Willemse can do the same.
Agree or disagree, rugby needs to find a way to get the best out of this young man for all our enjoyment.
If that means a third position change – even if it’s temporary – for the 22-year-old, then I’m saying why not?
We all want to see that moment of magic from Willemse, and he so desperately wants to give it to us.
But it’s just not happening in that jumper at the moment.
Lessen the responsibilities and free up the man out wide… come on, at least try it.