Damian Willemse. (Photo by Sarah Reed/Getty Images)
- Damian Willemse’s selection at flyhalf for the Springboks this weekend is definitely a stop-gap measure as the squad awaits news on the injuries to Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies.
- Yet the 24-year-old play-maker’s experience in the position could be a boon for the incisiveness of the Boks’ attacking play.
- Coach Jacques Nienaber says Willemse will be allowed the freedom to conduct his ‘circus act’ within the team’s game-plan.
Damian Willemse’s inclusion at flyhalf for the Springboks’ Rugby Championship meeting with the Wallabies on Saturday in Sydney probably wouldn’t have happened had it not been for a double injury blow in the No 10 jersey.
But that doesn’t mean the gifted 24-year-old, who’s been excellent at fullback in the current campaign, won’t be encouraged to blow out the lights in the position he first made a name for himself.
National coach Jacques Nienaber on Tuesday confirmed that an anxious 24 hours await the squad as the picture over Handre Pollard (knee) and Elton Jantjies’ (hand) respective injuries becomes clearer.
“It’s unfortunate that we lost two flyhalves in one game, but like all things in life it’s a [double-sided coin]. It’s unfortunate for Handre and Elton, but fortunate for Damian,” said Nienaber.
“We’ll have more clarity on the severity of the injuries by Wednesday. They obviously weren’t in contention for selection this week, but hopefully the medical team can provide us with a clearer picture in due course.
“That said, Damian played for us at flyhalf in the second half of the first Test against Wales and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can bring. I’m quite excited to see his combination with [fullback] Willie le Roux.”
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Kwagga Smith, 20 Duane Vermeulen, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Warrick Gelant
Indeed, the combination of Willemse and Le Roux last month at Loftus has been one of the highlights of an iffy international season for the Springboks, the two men reveling in a match situation that demanded more dynamism as the Boks mounted a comeback victory.
Despite reservations previously over whether the Stormers star is a viable option at pivot because of his struggles there, he’s shown more than enough maturity to suggest he can be a very decent stop-gap option.
“Damian possesses a very specific skillset,” said Nienaber.
“And that’s what he needs to bring to this game. We’re always telling the players that there is a broad game-plan that has to be followed, but you have the freedom to stamp your own authority on it.
“We call it bringing one’s ‘circus act’ to the ‘party’. That’s what we’re expecting from him.”
Kick-off is at 11:35 (SA time) on Saturday.