By the end of last season, only one young fullback was on everyone’s lips … and he isn’t even a specialist there (yet).
The merry-go-round regarding where Damian Willemse is going to play in 2019 naturally means he’s consistently a talking point in South African rugby’s discourse though it does seem that Stormers coach Robbie Fleck has accommodated national interest in picking him at No 15.
Yet on Saturday at Kings Park in Durban, the 20-year-old from Strand won’t be able to just focus on making an impression.
In fact, Willemse will have to make sure he’s not outshone by a man just a few months older than him.
Aphelele Fassi has been in excellent early form for the Sharks since being entrusted by coach Robert du Preez to spearhead the Durbanites’ back three.
Some will say that’s not surprising given his encouraging Currie Cup campaign last year.
Now he’s catching the eyes of a wider rugby-watching public … and Stormers coach Robbie Fleck.
“If you mention those two names – Damian and Aphelele – then you immediately think that these guys have the X-factor,” said the former Springbok midfielder.
Yet Fleck adopts a realistic perspective to their development.
“What’s really important at the moment for both is that they minimise their mistakes,” he said.
“They have to make the right decisions consistently and that will currently only come if they play regularly at Super Rugby level. But they certainly have the ‘total’ X-factor, they can breach defences. They need to focus on game management though if they want to aspire for higher honours.”
Stormers: Damian Willemse, Sergeal Petersen, Dan du Plessis, Damian de Allende, SP Marais, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Hershel Jantjies, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (c), JD Schickerling, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Ali Vermaak. Bench: Scarra Ntubeni, Corne Fourie, Wilco Louw, Chris van Zyl, Jaco Coetzee, Justin Phillips, Ruhan Nel, Dillyn Leyds.