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‘Damian Willemse was excellent for us this evening,’ says Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber

Published Jul 2, 2022

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Pretoria — Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber did not know whether to laugh or cry after his team had snatched a 32-19 victory from the jaws of defeat at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday evening after Wales for most of the match looked like they would win their first-ever match in South Africa.

The Boks were 18-3 behind at half-time and had to dig deep to win at the death when Damian Willemse kicked a dramatic penalty after the hooter had sounded with the score at 29-29.

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“The first half was not great, not at all,” Nienaber grimaced before breaking into a grin. “But we came back from 18-3 to score 28 points in 40 minutes and that takes calmness and character, so that is the half we would rather focus on.”

A major factor in the first half was the poor kicking of flyhalf Elton Jantjies and he was taken off at halftime, with Willie le Roux coming on in the unfamiliar position of 10, and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk taking on the kicking for touch.

Nienaber said that the selection of Jantjies ahead of Handre Pollard was necessary because he had “boxes to tick” in the first game of the year.

“We have a bigger picture in mind and specific reasons why we selected the team we did. Elton had hardly played this year — he had shoulder surgery and then his Japanese club did not get into their playoffs, so we needed to get him game time, and it will take time for him to get to his best, but he got 40 minutes tonight and that is priceless. You can have all the training time in the world but there is no pressure in training and we needed to get him match exposure.”

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The coach did acknowledge, though, that the change made at flyhalf was necessary.

“Our kicking game was not functioning and we could not get out of our half... We make a substitution when we think it is necessary, or once we have seen what we wanted to see, so yes performance is taken into account.”

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The hero of the day was Willemse and Nienaber said he was pleased his greater plan for the versatile Stormer is bearing fruit.

“I thought Damian did very well over the course of the game, not just with that last kick,” the coach said. “During the week I said he is a project we have been working on since 2018. We are slowly giving him more game time, and more experience, and with that comes confidence.

“I said Damian is our next Frans Steyn in that he covers 10, 12, and 15, and he did that excellently for us this evening.”

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The Boks now move to Bloemfontein for Saturday’s second Test against the same opposition.

@MikeGreenaway67

IOL Sport

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