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Time for Rassie and Nienaber to rethink Willemse's role?

OPINION: One of the big debates surrounding the Springbok squad in recent seasons has been the coaching team’s decision to use Damian Willemse in the flyhalf role.


After Manie Libbok produced a solid performance in South Africa’s win over Australia, Willemse got the pivotal role in the clash against the All Blacks in Auckland.

Willemse failed to stamp his authority on the game, especially in the first half when the Springboks were being pummelled all over the park.

With their backs against the wall, the Springboks needed some direction on the field, but it wasn’t coming from that flyhalf channel.

To be fair, several of Willemse’s teammates also looked like they were shell-shocked in the opening stages and there was a lack of quality ball to work with.

One could also make a case that Willemse was rusty, not having played since the United Rugby Championship and he also recently recovered from a knee injury.

However, it was a Test match and you would have expected more from a player with his pedigree.


There was some indecisiveness with the ball in hand and the backline just looked devoid of ideas for much of the time when he was at flyhalf.

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The Boks looked much better on attack when Willie le Roux slotted into that first receiver role and it is a ploy the Boks adopted on a few occasions with him and Willemse starting in the same backline.

Willemse has plenty of skill and speed and the fullback position gives him more time to make decisions and terrorise defenders around the park.


Maybe it’s time Johan Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber take a page out of John Dobson’s book when it comes to using Willemse in the backline.

The Stormers coach preferred to use the 25-year-old in the No.15 and No.12 jerseys during the United Rugby Championship and European season and he flourished.

In Auckland, another glaring difference between the All Blacks and the Springboks was the kicking game.

All Black flyhalf Richie Mo’unga and fullback Beauden Barrett put the Boks under constant pressure with high balls and accurate kicks in play and the Boks did not get that from their playmaker on Saturday.

The Bok coaches see Willemse as a utility player and the ultimate successor to Francois Steyn, who has now retired from the game.

It’s also understandable that Nienaber and Erasmus are preparing for every eventuality and with injuries being a big part of the game, Willemse could be the big solution at flyhalf if resources are cut short during the World Cup.

However, the Boks would do well to give Manie Libbok an extended run in that flyhalf role until Handre Pollard gets back to full fitness.

The more confidence Libbok gets on the international stage, the better it will be for the Springboks.


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