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Damian Willemse at No 15, surprise pick at right wing for Stormers against Clermont

Cape Town – Springbok star Damian Willemse will line up at fullback for the Stormers in Saturday’s Champions Cup opener against Clermont Auvergne.

Willemse has been operating mainly at flyhalf for the national team in 2022, but started out in the No 15 at Test level against Wales in July.

The 24-year-old, though, has been an influential figure at inside centre for the Stormers, where he played a big hand in their memorable run to the United Rugby Championship triumph last season, where he combined well to share the playmaking duties with flyhalf Manie Libbok.

But Willemse’s versatility, in addition to Dan du Plessis’ excellent form in the No 12 jersey this season, saw Stormers coach John Dobson picking the Bok utility player at No 15 on Friday in place of Clayton Blommetjies for the visit to the Stade Marcel Michelin (5.15pm SA time kickoff).

There is a surprise selection at right wing, with Samoan international Alapati Leiua – normally an outside centre – donning the No 14 jersey.

The rest of the backline is the same that started in last week’s URC win over the Dragons in Cape Town, but there are a number of new faces in the pack.

Bok flank Deon Fourie and former SA Under-20 captain Ernst van Rhyn return in the loose trio, while Gary Porter comes in for Test lock Marvin Orie, who was granted a rest this week.

Bok loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff is also back and will captain the side, where he will equal Frans Malherbe’s franchise record for the most caps (124).

“This is a big moment for the team and the players understand that we have an opportunity to show people what we are all about,” Dobson said on Friday.

“We are up against a decorated side at a renowned venue, which is ideal really for our introduction to the Champions Cup. We can’t wait to get going.”

Stormers Team

15 Damian Willemse 14 Alapati Leiua 13 Ruhan Nel 12 Dan du Plessis 11 Leolin Zas 10 Manie Libbok 9 Herschel Jantjies 8 Hacjivah Dayimani 7 Ernst van Rhyn 6 Deon Fourie 5 Gary Porter 4 Salmaan Moerat 3 Neethling Fouche 2 Joseph Dweba 1 Steven Kitshoff (captain).

Bench: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter 17 Ali Vermaak 18 Sazi Sandi 19 Ben-Jason Dixon 20 Marcel Theunissen 21 Junior Pokomela 22 Paul de Wet 23 Clayton Blommetjies.