Will Willemse be the Boks' magic man?
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Damian Willemse’s role in the Springboks has again raised a few eyebrows.
Willemse is one of just two backline players selected on the bench for the Springboks’ second Test against the British and Irish Lions on Saturday.
With Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber opting for six forwards and just two backs on the bench, Willemse’s role in the team has become more crucial.
The 23-year-old will have to cover flyhalf, fullback and centre this weekend during the must-win encounter against the tourists.
The multi-skilled Willemse has predominately switched between flyhalf and fullback at his franchise the Stormers and started his Bok career at fullback.
The utility back wore the No.12 jersey during his Junior Springboks career and was reacquainted with the role during his cameo appearance in the Boks’ warm-up Test against Georgia.
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Fronting up in the media in the build-up to the second Test, the playmaker admitted he hasn’t played centre that much, but revealed that he is more than happy with his latest venture in the Boks squad.
“I have been in the system since 2018 and been working with coach Jacques [Nienaber] and [SA Director of Rugby] Rassie [Erasmus], so I know the structures and I am used to it,” Willemse said.
“I have been playing No.15 and No.10, not so much No.12, but being so familiar with the structures and the way we do things at the Springboks.
“Also, having a guy like Damian de Allende with me, helps me a lot.
“To have the coaches backing me, giving me freedom and license to go out and play. A series like this only comes once in a lifetime, so it’s important for me to grab my opportunities and play with everything I’ve got for my country.
He added: “The coaches have always been clear with their plans and where they see me.
“Playing at 12 is really not much different from playing 10, at 12 you’re just more in the frontline chasing kicks, but I have played 12 at Currie Cup and club level. At the end of the day it’s still rugby, so it’s not so much of a change for me.”
When asked about his preferred position, Willemse said: “Our goals and our ambitions are never higher than the Springboks, so I am happy to help wherever I can and wherever the coach needs me.
“Anything to help the team and to help us win this series.”
Willemse noted the mood inside the Bok camp is very positive as the players are working hard to bounce back from their 17-22 defeat.
“All of these guys are professionals and we have been in this position a few times, one thing that I can guarantee you is that we are not going to sit back and feel sorry for ourselves,” he said.
“There is still everything to play for, so we have been working hard. We are looking forward to the second Test, we will be giving it our all.”