(Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)
- Bulls mentor Jake White says there are no hard feelings about Damian Willemse declining their offer to move to Pretoria.
- In fact, White believes the gifted playmaker’s loyalty to the Stormers makes it easier for him to accept the decision.
- Meanwhile, regular skipper Duane Vermeulen is progressing well following knee surgery and should be back training at Loftus in three weeks’ time.
There won’t be any awkward glances or greetings when Damian Willemse comes to Loftus Versfeld this weekend with his Stormers team-mates, at least not from Jake White’s side.
It’s almost exactly a week since the 22-year-old utility back ended vast speculation over his playing future by signing a three-year extension with the Capetonians, sidestepping concrete Bulls interest in him.
“Everyone has to make decisions in life as we all know,” White, the Bulls’ director of rugby, said philosophically on Thursday.
“I respect Damian’s decision. Obviously, he’s made it clear that he likes the lifestyle in Cape Town and is happy there. I really wish him all the best.
“There are no hard feelings. Damian is a good rugby player and that’s why we were chasing him.”
15 Richard Kriel, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 10 Chris Smith, 9 Zak Burger, 8 Nizaam Carr (captain), 7 Werner Gouws, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Janko Swanepoel, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Joe van Zyl, 1 Gerhard Steenekamp
Substitutes: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Jan Uys, 20 Tim Agaba, 21 Keagan Johannes, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Diego Appollis
15 Damian Willemse, 14 Edwill van der Merwe, 13 Ruhan Nel, 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Kade Wolhurter, 9 Paul de Wet, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Ernst van Rhyn, 6 Marcel Theunissen, 5 David Meihuizen, 4 Salmaan Moerat (captain), 3 Sazi Sandi, 2 Chad Solomon, 1 Leon Lyons
Substitutes: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Johan du Toit, 21 Evan Roos, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Tim Swiel
Given the Bulls mentor’s clear desire to instil a deep sense of traditional pride into his players, Willemse’s loyalty to the Stormers’ cause makes it actually easier for the Loftus franchise to move on from this contractual setback … if it can even be called as such.
“At the same time, you want people that want to come to Loftus. Guys that want to come play for the Bulls,” said White.
“If Damian’s heart isn’t into it – same as any other player we’ve negotiated with – it’s perhaps not a good idea. First prize for us is always a player that wants to come to Pretoria and wants to play for the Bulls. Then we can start negotiations. If a player would rather stay in his current environment, it makes it easier.
“I wish him all the best. I see he’s signed for three years. Hopefully that’s a period that helps him get his rugby right because we all know he’s talented.”
Speaking of men who wear their hearts of their sleeve, regular skipper Duane Vermeulen is progressing well in his recovery from knee surgery.
The Springbok veteran has been absent for the duration of the preparation series after having cartilage “cleaned out” and could be steadily re-introduced in next month’s Rainbow Cup.
“I hear Duane’s doing really well,” said White.
“The rehab is on course and he’s training with Rene Naylor from the Springboks, which is pleasing. The progress is great.
“I think if I do my sums correctly, he’ll be joining us again in about three weeks’ time. To be fair to him, Duane has been away from his family for a long time. He can stay there because we’re not going to use him for the last two (preperation series) games.
“When we have a bit of a break, he’ll return to training with us.”
Kick-off at Loftus is at 19:00.