Bulls vs Stormers: Damian Willemse ready to hit ground running after brief break

After an extended break, Damian Willemse is ready to hit the ground running as his team tackle the business end of their season

FILE - After an extended break, Damian Willemse is ready to hit the ground running as his team tackle the business end of their season. Photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 23, 2024


After an extended break, where he could mentally and physically rest and recharge in Europe, Stormers utility back Damian Willemse is ready to hit the ground running as his team tackle the business end of their season.

The double World Cup winner will have a fiery test immediately, with his first match back after his Springbok-mandated rest being against the Bulls in the famous north-south derby next week Saturday.

Willemse is well-prepared for the United Rugby Championship clash at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria because while on holiday, he experienced a week of top-class training at the highly acclaimed Red Bull Athlete Performance Center (APC) in Thalgau, Austria.

The APC has been the training home for various international sports stars like England cricket captain Ben Stokes and Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Willemse was tested on various aspects of his fitness in Austria, and he plans to implement what he learnt when he gets onto the Loftus pitch next week.

Willemse explained to Independent Newspapers at the Stormers’ practice headquarters in Bellville yesterday that his eyes were opened to a different world of training at the Red Bull APC, where he rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s top athletes from different sporting codes.

“For a boy coming from Strand, getting the opportunity to train in Austria was just amazing. But now I am back at the Stormers and ready for the next match,” Willemse said.

“There were some key findings from my week of training, where they identified small areas that I can improve in. I sent over some things that I did on this side, and we focused on fine-tuning those small parts of my training.

“They have some of the best people working at the APC when it comes to their respective fields in sport. The equipment is also state of the art, and some of the best in the world.”

Now, though, his focus is entirely on getting back onto the field with the Stormers, who are currently on a seven-match winning streak against the Bulls and they are looking to make it number eight over Jake White’s side.

They are also on an unbeaten run of 17 games against South African opposition, which they are looking to extend to 18.

Although they’ve been the top franchise in the country for several seasons, Willemse doesn’t feel that they have that target on their backs.

Instead, he feels that all teams are trying to get one over the others.

“We are simply trying to do the best we can. On Monday, we will have a review of the Sharks game and see where we can improve,” the Springbok fullback said.

“We will look at those key areas against the Bulls, as it will be a different challenge. Individually, we bring our X-factor and what the Stormers need on the field. We are all working towards a goal.

“Currently we are getting the results and the squad is keen to continue it.

“It’s an honour playing in a northsouth derby. This tradition has been coming on for years. Just to be part of it, and say you have taken part in one – whether it was at Newlands or it’s at the DHL Stadium, or Loftus – it will go down in history.

“In 40 years they will play back those tapes and my kids will be able to look at it. Next week we just have to make sure we prepare well and work hard. We are looking forward to it.”


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