VIDEO: Willemse earmarked for 'new' World Cup role
Damian Willemse has finally shed the ‘utility’ tag and will go to the World Cup in France next year as a specialist flyhalf.
South Africa’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus has revealed that Willemse is now seen as a flyhalf – even though he can still cover inside centre and fullback.
Willemse and fellow Stormer Manie Libbok were listed as the only specialist flyhalves in the 35-man squad named on Friday for a six-match, two-Test tour of Europe.
First-choice playmaker Handre Pollard is ruled out due to injury and his regular understudy, Elton Jantjies, is unavailable due to dealing with his personal problems.
Vastly experienced utility back Francois Steyn, who wore the No.10 shirt when the Springboks beat Argentina in their last Test a month ago, is also injured.
Pollard, whose goal-kicking was instrumental in South Africa winning the 2019 World Cup in Japan, was injured midway through the Rugby Championship.
The Boks tackle will play Ireland (November 5, Dublin), France (November 12, Marseille), Italy (November 19, Genoa) and England (November 26, London).
Willemse is now the first choice for the No.10 shirt in those games, while Libbok is the backup.
“Damian has done a great job for us at flyhalf,” Nienaber said of the Rugby Championship victories over Australia (24-8) in Sydney and Argentina (36-20) in Buenos Aires.
While those were 24-year-old’s only starts in the No.10 jersey, he has previously filled in at flyhalf – either off the bench or when starting at fullback.
Nienaber said they earmarked Goosen – named in the SA ‘A’ side for midweek clashes with Munster and the Bristol Bears – to step into the No.10 spot during their initial planning back in February.
However, a lack of game time put paid to those plans.
Unfortunately, he only played 160 minutes [for the Bulls] in the United Rugby Championship. We would have liked [for him to have] some more minutes [on the field], but it didn’t work out that way.”
He said he is happy to have the ‘exciting young flyhalves’ jump in at the deep end.
“We are excited to see, if they do get an opportunity, how they will step up,” the coach added.
Libbok has been included in the squad for the first time after a series of excellent performances for the Stormers in the URC.
Nienaber said Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu’s athleticism is what won him the vote for inclusion in the squad as a utility back.
“From a defensive viewpoint, he really impressed me,” the coach said, adding: “He is certainly not afraid.
“He stood his ground in the No.12 channel.”
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Having coached Libbok as a member of the SA Schools team in 2015, he has been on the Bok radar for some time.
Unfortunately, his career hit a few obstacles at the Bulls and Sharks, before the Stormers created the opportunity for him to realise his true potential.
Asked about Feinberg-Mngomezulu’s position as a ‘utility’, Erasmus explained that it depends on the need in a specific match – whether they go with a six-two split or there is a need for a specialist flyhalf cover.
“The nice thing about Sacha is that he can play at No.10 and No.12,” the Director of Rugby said.
“If people ask why we have both the flyhalves from the Stormers, it is because the one covers different positions.
“Manie [Libbok] covers No.10 and No.15.
“Damian [Willemse] in our eyes now, is a flyhalf.
“We see him going to the World Cup as a flyhalf.
“People forget that last kick he slotted to win the Test against Wales.
“Goalkicking is something we work hard at [with the players].”
He added that Libbok is now the ‘utility’ project that covers flyhalf and fullback.
“We know Manie really well. We know what he can do.
“I am not sure if Sacha can play fullback.
“We know Damian can play No.10, No.12 and No.15 at the highest level.
“Sacha will get to learn from him [Willemse] how to handle himself in physical situations and how to attack when pressure is on.”
* Another returnee is Ireland-based lock Jason Jenkins after a four-year absence from the Springbok squad.
Nienaber said Jenkins, 26, had a bad run with a lack of game time and injuries.
“Jason has been in fine form for Leinster,” Nienaber said, adding: “He is starting games and playing consistently good rugby.”
The Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, pointed out that season second row forward Rudolph Snyman has had a horror run of injuries since helping the Boks win the World Cup in 2019 – his last appearance was the 32-12 demolition of England in Yokohama.
“We all know what a freak RG [Snyman] is as an athlete and what he can do for the Boks,.” Erasmus said.
“At some stage, we have to ask the question: ‘Will RG make it to the World Cup?’
“If we leave till after the year-end tour we will be taking a big risk to ensure there is another front [No.4] lock and Jason will give us some of those answers.”