VIDEO: Willie le Roux's new 'side project'
Damian Willemse may not be everybody’s cup of tea as a Springbok, but he has the backing of the national team coaches.
Willemse, 23, will feature in his 14th Test when the Boks tackle Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
He will earn only his fourth start in the Green and Gold, but he is being groomed to eventually take over from the man he has replaced in the starting XV – Willie le Roux.
The Bok coach, Jacques Nienaber, spoke about how Le Roux will guide youngsters like Willemse and Aphelele Fassi through the pitfalls of Test rugby.
Nienaber said every player brings something different, when asked if Willemse would also fulfil a ‘playmaker’ role like Le Roux.
“Willie has played the majority of the Tests since we [Nienaber and Rassie Erasmus] returned [from Munster] in 2018,” the Bok coach told a virtual media briefing.
He used the cliched expression that they know what they have in Le Roux.
“If we had to play a World Cup Final at the weekend, we will probably select Willie,” he said of Le Roux, adding that his experience makes him an obvious choice.
“This is the ideal time to give Damian [Willemse] an opportunity to get an extended run, where he can settle in at fullback.
“It is a great opportunity and we asked Willie to help us develop him [Willie] and Aphelele [Fassi].
“It is a little side project.
“Willie is feeding as much information as he can into them.”
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Nienaber said all three – Le Roux, Willemse and Fassi – are very different players and bring their own unique brand of ‘X-factor’ to the game.
“There are certain things from a team perspective that they will have to drive, but they have to bring their own specialness and find their own foothold in the game.
Nienaber said they are constantly making selections with a view to the next World Cup, in France, 2023.
He added they will not cheapen the Bok jersey and it will always be “tough” to earn a Test cap.
Willemse’s three previous appearances in the Bok starting XV were against England (Twickenham, November 2018), Canada (at the World Cup in Kobe 2019) and Argentina (Port Elizabeth, August this year).
“Damian has been in the mix since 2018 and he has been patient – working hard and training well,” the coach said.
“We feel it is time now, three years that he has been with us.
“He deserves a ‘lekker’ opportunity.
“The discussion was held in front of the entire team and Willie bought in 100 percent.
“He will feed those bits and pieces of information and pass his experience on to these guys.