VIDEO: The Willemse 'project' paid dividends
REACTION: Damian Willemse, like most of the Springboks, didn’t have a perfect game. However, the persistence with the ‘Willemse project’ is beginning to pay dividends for South Africa.
Damian Willemse kicked an added-time penalty to give World Cup winners South Africa a dramatic 32-29 victory over Wales in a first Test thriller in Pretoria on Saturday.
The heavily fancied Springboks, who trailed by 15 points after a woeful first-half performance, took full advantage of Welsh ill-discipline after the break to snatch victory.
Wales, nine places below top-ranked South Africa, were reduced to 12 men at one point in the closing stages – due to yellow cards and finished with 13 men.
Captain and flyhalf Dan Biggar was sin-binned late in the opening half and Alun Wyn Jones, two-try star Louis Rees-Zammit and Rhys Carre later suffered similar fates.
After a penalty try gave South Africa a 29-24 lead on 75 minutes, Wales hit back with hooker Dewi Lake barging over for a try to level the scores, but Biggar saw his conversion veer just right of the post.
Biggar was then penalised for a deliberate knock-on and Willemse, who started at fullback and moved to flyhalf at half-time, held his nerve to steer the ball between the posts.
Springbok Jacques Nienaber has admitted that the team’s kicking game “didn’t function”, but had plenty of praise for match-winner Willemse.
He once again to Bok utility great Frans Steyn.
(Continue below video …)
“I thought Damian did well,” the coach said in his post-match reaction.
“As we said during the week, he is a ‘project’ and he has been a project since 2018.
“We’ve slowly been giving him more confidence and game time in what we want him to do.
“I said in the week, he is probably our next Frans Steyn – covering No.10, No.12 and No.15.
“Today [Saturday] he had to cover No.10 and No.15 for us and I think he did it excellently.
“We came back from 3-18 [down at half-time] and I said to the guys afterwards that they never gave up.
“To score 29 points in the second half was great.
“They stayed calm and composed and got the job done.”
“Our kicking game wasn’t functioning,” added Nienaber.
“It’s probably the one reason why we struggled to get out of our half.
“It’s probably the one thing we will have to improve.
“But the 29 points we scored in the second half was really good.
“However, the first half didn’t go as we planned.
“We created some opportunities, but we didn’t capitalise, and they created two great opportunities which they finished off.”
@rugby365com, with additional reporting by AFP & PA
* Picture credit: Johan Orton