A pair of Springbok magicians will be on display on Saturday to see who can put on the best show when the DHL Stormers and South African rivals the Vodacom Bulls clash in a Vodacom United Rugby Championship quarter-final at a packed DHL Stadium.
DHL Stormers playmaker Damian Willemse has earned his reputation as one of the most versatile attacking threats in the Vodacom URC, but this week he can expect a title-challenge from Vodacom Bulls hot-stepper Kurt-Lee Arendse in front of a record-breaking crowd for a non-international match at the DHL Stadium.
More than 37 000 tickets had been sold midweek and the hosts are expecting that number to reach 45 000 by kick-off.
Featuring at fullback, flyhalf and centre for the DHL Stormers in their run to the 2021-22 championship, Willemse continues to impress with his composure under pressure and his undeniable X factor.
The 24-year-old is pivotal to the dynamic and eye-catching brand of rugby employed by the defending Vodacom URC champions, and his breath-taking try against Harlequins in the Heineken Champions Cup thrilled the crowd at DHL Stadium.
His talent borders on the paranormal and Willemse produced an outrageous one-handed finish in the corner that helped clinch a maiden last-eight spot in the European cup competition.
Meanwhile, Arendse has backed up his breakthrough season for the Vodacom Bulls in 2021-22 with another stellar campaign as last year’s losing finalists look to secure a place in the semi-finals, and end a Vodacom URC five-game losing streak against their traditional foes.
The 26-year-old fullback, who earned his first international call-up last year and ended the Test season with seven tries in as many matches, is dangerous in broken play, equally assured in the air and punches above his weight in defence.
Forming a formidable back three with fellow Springbok Canan Moodie and the ever-improving David Kriel, Arendse helped the Vodacom Bulls claim two huge wins against Zebre Parma and Leinster in the Republic as they built up a head of steam for the playoffs.
Arendse’s stunning brace against Leinster in the final round of the league stages – his eighth try in all competitions this season – capped off an emphatic victory for the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld as the men from Pretoria ended the Irish giants’ unbeaten run in the 2022-23 Vodacom URC.
Arendse has emerged as a triple threat for club and country and his traits have impressed Vodacom Bulls director of rugby Jake White.
“The one thing about him is that he can do everything. He is quick, he’s got good feet, and he’s very brave in the contact areas as well,” White said.
“He may be a little guy, but he defends well and he’s resolute at the breakdown. He’s one of those guys where, the more he plays, the better he becomes. He’s also one of the most consistent guys under the high ball for us.”
Willemse appreciates the genius of his national team mate, even though on Saturday it will be mate against mate.
“Kurt-Lee has been playing brilliant rugby, and I know our one-on-one battles are something that will be spoken about,” Willemse said. “But for myself, it’s to focus on what I can contribute to the team. If I can put the forwards in a good space to attack and get mauls, that’s what I am trying to focus on.
“It’s going to be a high-pressure environment, in front of 40,000 people, so we as the game-drivers need to make smart decisions … we’ve got a few plans for the weekend but that might change and we’ve got to adapt as quickly as we can.”
Saturday’s blockbuster clash between Willemse and Arendse in the shadow of Table Mountain will showcase why the red-hot duo are primed to star for the Springboks at the 2023 Rugby World Cup.