It has already been a breakout season on the international front for utility back Damian Willemse and it was just a bonus as he was named man-of-the-match playing flyhalf for the Springboks in their Rugby Championship win over the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday.
Willemse has featured mostly at fullback so far this year, but had to slot in at flyhalf after Handre Pollard (knee) and Elton Jantjies (hand) were ruled out of the match, leading to him putting in an assured performance from pivot.
Despite his impressive performances on the pitch, Willemse was humble as ever, crediting Jantjies with much of the success he has enjoyed for the Boks over the years and in Saturday’s game.
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“Elton has been massive. He’s an absolute team guy. The way he has helped me as a mentor to a young guy coming in since 2018 has been amazing,” said Willemse.
“He has helped me a lot with my kicking and I have to give a lot of credit to him as well with the performance I had tonight.
“Just the way he helped me prepare and kept me calm. He has been selfless in helping me and in making the team better.”
The influence of Jantjies probably played a large part in Willemse admitting that the switch to flyhalf wasn’t a big deal, with him just able to play his game.
“It wasn’t really that tough. I’ve been getting reps there since the Welsh series. So just slotting in tonight was a bit of a different role. But I enjoyed it. So credit must go to all the coaching staff and the guys who helped me throughout the week,” said Willemse.
Willemse was also happy with the balance between kicking and attack that the Boks displayed in the match, claiming that they executed it well which helped them build a strong lead in the match.
“I think the balance was pretty good, especially with the way we suffocated the Wallabies. We had a lot of territory in their half and good possession and we converted that into scoreboard pressure,” explained Willemse.
“The tactical kicking from Willie (le Roux) with his left boot, Jaden (Hendrikse) was outstanding with his kicks from nine and then we had Canan (Moodie) and (Makazole) Mapimpi chasing down those kicks.
“So we got to a lot of the contestables and took our opportunities. So our all-round balance with the tactical kicking was pretty good.”