Talented DHL Stormers and SA Schools flyhalf Damian Willemse is relishing the opportunity to stake a claim for a place in the Junior Springbok team to travel to the World Rugby U20 Championship in Georgia in May, and vowed that he will do his best to be selected for the 28-man touring squad.
Willemse, who represented the SA Schools team in 2015 and 2016, was named in Junior Springbok coach Chean Roux’s training squad in February, and trained with the group before being called up to the DHL Stormers, where he made his Vodacom Super Rugby debut against the Southern Kings last month.
However, he returned to the SA U20 camp on Sunday in Bloemfontein and wasted no time getting back into the thick of things as he works toward achieving his second big milestone for the year.
“It was a fantastic experience and dream come true to earn my first cap for the DHL Stormers and to play Vodacom Super Rugby,” said Willemse.
“I learned a lot in the few minutes on the field, and it was great to play alongside some of the best players in the country and to feature in one of the toughest competitions in the world.
“That experience will certainly benefit me in the Junior Springbok training squad, and hopefully it will assist me in achieving my goal of representing the team at the World Rugby U20 Championship.”
The 19-year old has progressed through the junior ranks in SA Rugby over the last few years having advanced from the Coca-Cola U16 Grant Khomo Week to the Coca-Cola U18 Craven Week before being selected for the SA Schools team. And with the SA U20 team marking the highest honour of the game at junior level, Willemse hopes to continue his rise through the structures this year.
“It is an honour and privilege to be in the Junior Bok training squad, and it is certainly one of the highlights of my career so far along with making my Vodacom Super Rugby debut,” said Willemse.
“It is very important to me to be part of the training squad because participating in the U20 Championship is something I have always wanted to achieve. This is a big test for all the players, and we are determined to do everything we can to be selected for the touring squad and to have a shot at possibly winning the competition.”
The former Paul Roos Gymnasium pupil, who was named the Coca-Cola Craven Week Player of the Year in 2016, has fond memories of watching rugby with his parents as a young boy and says the sport has been a key element of his life since he was born.
“I grew up with rugby around me because I come from the Strand where rugby is very popular, and my family loves rugby,” said the talented flyhalf.
“I started playing rugby in Grade 1, but my first memories of the game were watching rugby in the community and provincial games with my parents.
“I started taking rugby seriously in Grade 10 when I was selected for the Western Province Coca-Cola U16 Grant Khomo Week team, and it was then and there that I decided I wanted to become a professional rugby player.
“I played cricket too, and I had to choose which of the sports to focus on, but since I had a passion for rugby from a young age, it was an easy decision.”
Willemse was excited about the opportunity to work with the Junior Springbok coaching team of Roux, Mzwandile Stick and Louis Koen, and said: “It is fantastic to work with the coaches – all three of them are great coaches in their own right, and I am learning a lot from them.”
The Junior Springboks will play two warm-up matches this week before their training camp in Bloemfontein concludes on Sunday, with the team facing the Tafel Lager Griquas at Griqua Park in Kimberley at 18h00 on Wednesday, and the Toyota Free State Cheetahs at 15h00 at Shimla Park in Bloemfontein on Saturday.