Meet South African rugby’s ‘Mr Versatile’

Who is Damian Willemse: Ten things you should know about the Springbok 

Damian Willemse can play fly-half, full-back and centre at the top level, and it’s that versatility that has seen him involved in the South Africa set-up since 2018.

Ten things you should know about  Damian Willemse

1. Damian Willemse was born on 7 May 1998 in Strand, a seaside town in the Western Cape.

2. His parents’ work schedules meant he was brought up by his grandmother.

He told the Future Minds podcast: “My mom and dad were working different shifts, so either an early morning shift or working through the night, that kind of stuff. So they couldn’t always be there for me. So my gran took me under her wing and she actually raised both my brother and I. I think my gran and obviously, my family raised me with very good values.”

3. He went to school at Paul Roos Gymnasium, which is famous for producing Springboks.

He also had the potential to pursue a cricket career but opted to focus on rugby in his mid-teens.

4. He represented Western Province at the U16 and U18 national tournaments, and made his Stormers debut aged 18 against Southern Kings in 2017.

He was linked with a move to Europe in 2021 but that March signed a three-year contract extension with the Stormers.

5. His older brother Ramone Samuels is also a professional rugby player and they won the Currie Cup together with Western Province in 2017.

In terms of the different surnames, Willemse has explained it’s because Samuels was born before their parents married.

6. Willemse was part of the South Africa U20 side that finished third at the Junior World Championships in 2017 and 2018.

7. He has talked of Australia fly-half Quade Cooper being an inspiration – and it seems the feeling is mutual, with the Wallaby tweeting praise for Willemse in 2018.

8. He made his Test debut a few months after his 20th birthday, against Argentina in Durban in 2018.

9. Willemse joined Saracens on a short-term deal in September 2019 after Alex Goode and Max Malins suffered injuries – and then got called up to replace the injured Jesse Kriel in the South Africa squad at the Rugby World Cup.

He played one game at the tournament in Japan, starting at full-back in the pool game against Canada and scoring a try – his first at Test level, and picked up a World Cup winner’s medal.

10. Away from rugby, he has studied for a commerce degree with Milpark Education and is inspired by entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk.

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