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Damian Willemse ‘ready to make the big decisions’ after Springboks promotion

FILE - Springbok utility back Damian Willemse celebrates with a winners medal after the 2021 British and Irish Lions Tour. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

FILE - Springbok utility back Damian Willemse celebrates with a winners medal after the 2021 British and Irish Lions Tour. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Published Nov 2, 2021


Johannesburg – There will be a number of supporters that will note with a degree of glee that Willie le Roux will not be involved against Wales this weekend.

The vitriol surrounding the World Cup-winning full-back has not always been positive this season – perhaps unfairly so – and has arguably bordered on the hysterical at times. Nonetheless, and at least for this weekend, there will be a proper gauging of just how much the 32-year-old will be missed.

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Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber sprung a surprise on many on Tuesday at the team announcement when he selected utility-back Damian Willemse in his starting XV to face the Welsh, revealing that the pick was a part of the squad’s rotation policy and a “side-project” to help develop the Young Turk further, with an eye no doubt on the 2023 World Cup in France.

When at his best, Le Roux is the glue that holds the backline together, often slotting in as an additional playmaker in the half-back channel, covering the back bravely in defence and under the high ball, while making big decisions regarding territorial play.

For Willemse to take the next step in his international career, he will have to match the veteran in all those departments, while also exhibiting his undoubted X-factor that has had many tongues-a-wagging since he made his professional debut in 2017 for the Stormers and a year later for the Boks.

It was a calm and collected Willemse, who quietly sat next to Nienaber in the media briefing on Tuesday, that expressed his belief in no uncertain terms that he was ready to make that impact, not as the perennial bench-warmer since 2018, but as a starter.

Willemse will earn his 15th Test cap on Saturday (kick-off 7.30pm) and any concern regarding his inexperience was quickly invalidated as he presented clear, concise and insightful answers to the gathered conference.

“Naturally,” Willemse said in Afrikaans, “it is going to be a massive match where the game-drivers – 9, 10, 12 and 15 – will have to make important decisions.

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“It will be one of those games where you will only get one, two, or three opportunities to make a big impact; whether that is to win a penalty, or to score a try, or whatever it takes to get the team in the right half of the field. We are expecting a massive kicking game and it will be up to us to assess what the game brings and what we must do as game-drivers to win the game.

“Big decision will have to be taken and that responsibility will be upon me, and the rest of the guys, to make the correct decisions to get the team in the best possible position (territorially) so that we can convert that pressure into points.”

Willemse would then go on to further elaborate on what supporters can expect from himself and the team’s strategy for the clash against the Welsh.

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“I wouldn’t say there is a kicking gameplan, but rather that our style of play is to build pressure,” Willemse said.

“We all know Test rugby is all about pressure and the team that succumbs to that pressure first will have a tough time in the game. We must assess what is required – do we run, do we kick, do we go into contact?

“There are several factors that will influence it.

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“Luckily, I’ve got good guys around me - I’ve got Damian (de Allende); I’ve got Jesse (Kriel), who is an excellent communicator; (Handre) Pollard is there. So, there is a lot of experience in the backline, which will help with all that. It is going to be a game with a lot of pressure and the decision-making is going to be very important.”

Eshewhere, the only other brow-lifting selection in the matchday 23, was that of Kriel on the wing. The 27-year-old comes in for Sbu Nkosi after not having played since August for the Boks. It will, therefore, be interesting to see his current match-fitness level and form, even though he has been with the squad the entire season.

Herschel Jantjies, meanwhile, will slot in at No 9, beating out Cobus Reinach to the starting berth as Faf de Klerk is out injured.

Springbok Starting XV: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Siya Kolisi (capt), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nché

Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn


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