Damian Willemse injury: Stormers covered, but Springbok question marks

Damian Willemse’s absence will be a big blow for the Springboks against Ireland in July. Photo: BackpagePix

Damian Willemse’s absence will be a big blow for the Springboks against Ireland in July. Photo: BackpagePix

Published May 23, 2024


While the Stormers have been rocked by the finger injury to Damian Willemse, it may have even bigger consequences for the Springboks in the first half of the international season.

Stormers director of rugby John Dobson confirmed to Independent Newspapers yesterday that star utility back Willemse will have an operation on a finger on his right hand, which he hurt during the 16-12 United Rugby Championship win over Connacht in Galway last Saturday.

Now he is set to miss the Wales Test on June 22 in London, followed by the Ireland series and possibly even the whole Rugby Championship, depending on his recovery.

The 26-year-old double World Cup winner actually played the entire match against Connacht, having had his finger strapped when the injury happened early in the first half as it looked like a dislocation.

But it won’t be possible to strap it up again for the Stormers’ next match against the Lions on June 1 in Cape Town, as well as the URC play-offs and Bok Tests, as Willemse has suffered ligament damage, which requires surgery and cannot be risked further by continuing to play.

The immediate upshot is that Willemse won’t feature for the Cape side for the rest of the season, but utility back Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu, who also hurt his finger against Connacht, will be fine and available for the Lions clash.

The Stormers are fifth on the URC log on 54 points with one league game to go against the Lions, and they are being chased by Ulster (53), who will face log leaders Munster away in their last round robin match on June 1.

But the Stormers are well-covered in the absence of Willemse at inside centre by the consistent Dan du Plessis, as well as fullback, where Warrick Gelant has shown that he is close to his attacking best once more.

Bok coach Rassie Erasmus, though, will have to think long and hard about his options at fullback, where Willemse has been a rock for the world champions.

Veteran Willie le Roux is an obvious choice at No 15, but while he has had some good moments for the Bulls this season, he has also made a few unnecessary mistakes, and doesn’t quite offer Willemse’s stability or strike-power at the back.

Gelant still blows hot and cold on attack and defence, mixing the sublime with the ridiculous for the Stormers, and may be considered too much of a risk for the Test level at this stage.

A new face is Lions star Quan Horn, who has been invited to the Springbok alignment camps this year, with one currently taking place in Cape Town where Erasmus will have an opportunity to engage with the players and coaches about the possibilities at fullback.

Horn is a refreshing option as he also offers a left kicking boot, and has been outstanding on the counter-attack for the Johannesburg side.

But what about Kurt-Lee Arendse at No 15? He played many games at fullback for the Bulls in his first few years in Pretoria, and was actually chosen in that position in the URC Elite XV last season.

Arendse is devastating with ball in hand, courageous on defence and excellent under the high ball, and may give the Boks an extra edge on the counter-attack, in tandem with Cheslin Kolbe and Canan Moodie on the wings.

Of course, the last two mentioned have operated at No 15 in their careers as well, and Kolbe in particular has stated previously that he would want to have a crack at playing in the last line of defence.

Sharks star Aphelele Fassi is also in the reckoning after sorting out his defence issues this season, while many critics are clamouring for England-based Tyrone Green, who has been superb for Harlequins.

An outside bet is Stormers youngster and former Junior Springbok captain Feinberg-Mngomezulu, who has had a few dazzling cameos off the bench in the URC.

2024 Springbok Fixtures

Saturday, June 22: v Wales (Twickenham, London)

Saturday, July 6: v Ireland (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)

Saturday, July 13: v Ireland (Kings Park, Durban)

Saturday, July 20: v Portugal (Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein)

Saturday, August 10: v Australia (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)

Saturday, August 17: v Australia (Optus Stadium, Perth)

Saturday, August 31: v New Zealand (Ellis Park, Johannesburg)

Saturday, September 7: v New Zealand (Cape Town Stadium)

Saturday, September 21: v Argentina (Estadio Unico Madre Ciudades, Santiago)

Saturday, September 28: v Argentina (Mbombela Stadium)

Sunday, November 10: v Scotland (Murrayfield, Edinburgh)

Saturday November 16: England (Twickenham, London)

Saturday November 23: Wales (Principality Stadium, Cardiff)