Judging from recent Super Rugby outings, Damian Willemse and Dillyn Leyds are the perfect 10 and 15 for the Stormers’ attacking game plan.
Both men have found themselves in the starting XV, and in their preferred positions, due to a bit of luck with injuries to Jean-Luc du Plessis and SP Marais.
Despite being only 19, Willemse has seamlessly made the transition into Super Rugby and clearly has the temperament to play at the elite level. He is strong, fast and dangerously elusive. He has excellent vision for putting himself or a team-mate through a gap he often creates himself. His tactical kicking has also proven to be a valuable weapon for him and the Stormers.
Leyds meanwhile has made the switch from left wing to full-back. Having made a massive impact out of position, he is now showing what he is truly capable of. Now that he has more space, time and opportunities to run with the ball, he is proving to be one of the best line-breaking attackers in South African rugby. He played a lot of his junior rugby at fly-half and also slots into that channel now and then excellently, similar to what Willie Le Roux used to offer the Boks.
This season the Stormers have adopted a far more exciting and attacking game plan. More often than not they look to attack with ball in hand, send the ball wide and their backs and forwards constantly seek offloading opportunities. They have also become astute at creating and completing try-scoring opportunities and capitalising on turnover possession.
Another often overlooked, critical aspect to the Stormers success, which has filtered into recent Springbok revival as well, is their improvement in securing their own ball and cleaning out defenders at rucks. This, along with Jano Vermaak’s quick delivery, has allowed them to recycle faster and make their expansive play highly effective.
This is why the likes of Willemse and even Damien de Allende have been able to thrive. Du Plessis and Shaun Treeby are easy to read and defend while Willemse and De Allende as a 10-12 combination offer far more variety. This unpredictability allows both players to suck in defenders and create overlaps for other outside backs such as Cheslin Kolbe, Seabelo Senatla and EW Viljoen.
Going into the quarter-final clash against the Chiefs, the Stormers are by no means a perfect unit. Willemse’s goal-kicking could prove to be a problem. Their scrums have been excellent, but their line-outs need to be more accurate and they can offer even more unpredictability on attack by occasionally slowing play down, taking the ball to ground and running set moves.
On defence, if they insist on implementing rush defence, they must cut out individual errors and missed tackles or they will continue to concede too many tries against a Chiefs side that will punish them.
In what should be a tightly contested quarter-final, the end result could be decided by the most accurate boot or the most lethal game-breaker. Both sides lack truly reliable goal-kickers. However, they both have some of the world’s best attackers, with Willemse and Leyds on top their game right now.
by Brandon Yates