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Rugby | Currie Cup

Big moment for young Willemse



The Currie Cup is chiefly a platform for players who are readying themselves for bigger things and in that sense this past weekend was a massive moment for one of South Africa’s stars of the future, Damian Willemse.

The 19-year-old’s switch to fullback so that the more experienced Robert du Preez can take the pivot duties during the cutting stage of the competition is perhaps an indication that there is a feeling among the Western Province coaching staff that the prodigiously talented younger still has some growing to do in the position he is likely to specialise in.

Indeed, there many not just be coincidence in the fact that Willemse’s selection to the last line of defence for Province’s trip to Loftus to face the Blue Bulls was a mirror of the path that Curwin Bosch was on when he was the same age as Willemse. In other words, a year out of school (there is only one year separating them).

It is all about learning for players of that age, and Willemse appeared to settle well in his new role at fullback. He would have left Pretoria feeling he’d had a good all-round game. But why the world might appear different to him now than it was before the weekend is that he came through a massive litmus test in having to kick the penalty that won the visitors the game.

The hooter had gone, so if the kick was missed the Cape side, trailing 45-43, would have fallen tantalisingly short and questions might have been asked about Willemse’s temperament. The kick was taken from 15 metres in and between the 10 metre and 22 metre lines so while not the most difficult kick in the world, it was also not the easiest at such a crucial stage.

But Willemse slotted it and would have been immensely relieved to see the flags raised and then become the focus of his elated teammates.

It was tough on the Bulls, who had done well to fight back from a deficit in a game that Province led most of the way after coming back from conceding an early try to the impressive Warrick Gelant, and they might have felt a bit aggrieved at the penalty that was awarded to WP for the ball being punched into touch. At the same time though, the try scored by the Bulls to give them the lead a few minutes earlier would also have been the subject of debate.

The net result was that WP have now given themselves a great chance of clinching second spot, particularly after the Cheetahs were comprehensively thumped by Griquas in Kimberley. It means Province are two points ahead of the Cheetahs and seven ahead of the Golden Lions, who were well beaten in a wet weather game in Durban on Friday night.

It effectively means that WP will go to Johannesburg for their next game knowing that a win will wrap up second place and home ground semifinal advantage, thus rendering their final league fixture against the Sharks in Durban as meaningless as it would be for the hosts.

For the Bulls, the two losing bonus points they picked up meant they are still just hanging in and will require bonus-point wins from their remaining two fixtures against the Cheetahs away and Pumas at home to still be in the reckoning for a top four spot, and will also have to rely on other results going their way.

The Sharks, with a record that now reflects a 10-game winning sequence, have been in a league of their own in the Currie Cup this season, and while the Loftus game did produce some high quality attacking rugby though it was poor defensively, it remained that way this weekend.

It was interesting to learn that coach Robert du Preez was still asking for more from his charges after their comprehensive win over the 2015 champions, but then champion teams require a strong task-master, and that is what Du Preez is. They will rest easily during their bye week before returning to fine tune against Province.

In that game they should be in the happy position of being able to welcome back two influential backs in Lukhanyo Am and Kobus van Wyk, with Du Preez facing the pleasant headache of having to decide who to leave out. Both those players though will add to the attacking dynamic that Du Preez appears to feel is lacking at present.

WEEKEND CURRIE CUP RESULTS

Sharks 24 Golden Lions 10

Tafel Lager Griquas 59 Toyota Free State Cheetahs 24

Vodacom Blue Bulls 45 DHL Western Province 46



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