DURBAN – Former Springbok and Canada center, Christian Stewart, believes Damian Willemse and Handré Pollard in the same starting line-up for the Boks, can be just the lethal weapon South Africa needs to win the Rugby World Cup next year.
Willemse will make his debut for the Boks off the bench against Argentina at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday. The prodigiously talented 20-year-old will be covering both the fullback and flyhalf berths.
According to Stewart – who played at centre and flyhalf with great success for Western Province – Willemse and Pollard should start for the Boks in the number 10 and 12 jerseys respectively later in the Rugby Championships.
The 52-year-old who was born in Toronto in Canada, is currently working as a property developer in the Cape Town.
In 1998 he played in three tests for South Africa. He also represented Canada at the World Cup in 1991 hosted by England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France and 1995 in South Africa.
Stewart is convinced if Willemse was born in New Zealand and Australia, he would already have been playing test match rugby.
“He (Willemse) is a special talent that comes along only once in a lifetime,” Stewart said in an exclusive interview.
“A place must be made for him in the starting line-up.
“I will certainly select both him and Pollard in the starting line-up. It doesn’t matter which number they wear on their jerseys. They can be lethal together.”
Stewart remembers Bok coach Rassie Erasmus as a highly intelligent rugby player.
He believes Erasmus he will bring that same intelligence and tactical acumen to the Boks as a coach.
“Rassie was an exceptionally intelligent rugby player in his days. Just go and look at the 2007 Currie Cup final when the Cheetahs won the competition.
”He has always been an innovative coach. I am sure the Willemse/Pollard combination will be part of his thinking.
“When Rassie started out as coach of the Cheetahs in the Currie Cup, he caused quite a stir by directing the play with spotlights of different colours from the roof of the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein.
“I believe he can set a trend in world rugby where the Springboks can play with two flyhalves.
”The great thing is that both these players are big and strong. They are physical and highly skillful. They can pop up at any time as first receiver on attack and create havoc in opposing defences.
“If we don’t play them together in the Rugby Championships, it will certainly be an opportunity missed – especially before next year’s World Cup in Japan.
“If the combination proves successful against the All Blacks and the Wallabies in the Championships, it will augur well for the World Cup.”
Erasmus believes there has been understandable fanfare around the potential that Willemse possesses and he could certainly appreciate the ‘hype’.
However, the Bok mentor has indicated Willemse will be eased off the bench against the Pumas to play in the fullback position.
He described Stewart’s concept as “very interesting ’’ and something that he would certainly consider.
“The Boks won the 1995 World Cup with two fly halves with Hennie Le Roux at inside-center and Joel Stansky at flyhalf,” the Bok coach said at the team hotel in Umhlanga on Friday.
“In 2007 it was Frans Steyn and Butch James. The All Blacks have had success with Dan Carter and Aaron Mauger.
“I think Damian is one of those younger guys who physically can stand up. You don’t doubt his physicality if you compare him with other guys his age.
“We know how he can tackle. He’s got a great step and a good boot.
“Its exciting, but lets first see how he goes.”
The same sentiments were echoed by Siya Kolisi.
The Bok skipper admitted he was taken aback by the qualities Willemse displayed at such a young age.
“’Damian is so strong. He’s different to a lot of guys who have only just recently come out of school.
“I’ve been shocked at just how professional he is, and the way he communicates and motivates others in game situations.
“He’s got great vision and with the way he prepares, he’s very hard on himself and really does the extras.
“That’s what got him here, so there’s really not a lot I need to tell him because he’s such a quality player,” added Kolisi.