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Damian Willemse is being groomed to be Springboks’ next Frans Steyn

Damian Willemse is being groomed to be the next Frans Steyn. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Damian Willemse is being groomed to be the next Frans Steyn. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Published Jun 29, 2022


Durban - Probably the biggest surprise in Jacques Nienaber’s Springbok team to play Wales on Saturday is Damian Willemse at fullback ahead of Willie le Roux, but the Bok coach says the Stormers player is being groomed as the next Frans Steyn.

The veteran Steyn is currently injured and over the course of the series against Wales Nienaber wants Willemse to have game time at fullback, centre and flyhalf, the positions Steyn covers.

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“Damian is a similar project to Frans in that he can play No 10, 12, 15 and even wing,” Nienaber explained.

“He is in that mould and we had a plan for him on last year’s November tour, but he got concussed early in the tour. Hopefully, it works out better now and he gets extended exposure at this level.”

Nienaber also raised eyebrows when he picked Elton Jantjies at flyhalf ahead of Handre Pollard, but he insists he has gone for the best option for the first Test against the Welsh at Loftus Versfeld.

In terms of Pollard, Nienaber intimated that his late arrival from duty with French champions Montpellier counted against him, and once having opted to go with Jantjies, that means he needs flyhalf cover on the bench and that would explain Le Roux not starting.

Pollard only arrived on Sunday in the Bok camp in Joburg after winning the Top 14 final with Montpellier last Friday, while Jantjies has been in camp for a month and thus is better prepared for Saturday’s Test than Pollard could hope to in less than a week of training.

“There is nothing sinister about our selections. We want to select players we coach during the week, and the guy who has been training is obviously in the better position,” Nienaber explained before adding that there is a wider plan to ultimately use all 42 players that are now in the camp over the three Tests against Wales and then the two Rugby Championship matches against New Zealand in August.

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“We have boxes we want to tick and there is a plan for all 42 players – they know what the plan is and it can change because of injuries or if we don’t have performance,” he said. “If things go our way on the field, our plan will play out over the next few weeks.”

Nienaber said that this team selection had been extremely difficult and it has been a delicate balancing act.

“This team has a balance between guys who have not trained over the last three weeks and those who have, and also a balance between those with experience and those who haven’t,” he said.

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“There is a bigger plan and this week’s team is the best team we can pick in terms of balance and there is a massive responsibility on the 23 for this week to lay a foundation and to ensure there is performance because if that does not happen, then things will change, but if all goes well all 42 will eventually play.”

Springboks: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (capt), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.

Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Elrigh Louw, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Willie le Roux

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