Boks won’t ‘sit back and feel sorry for themselves’

Damian Willemse says the Springboks have clarity about what they need to do in order to bounce back from this past Saturday’s defeat when they face the British & Irish Lions again, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

All the building blocks are in place for this weekend’s rematch between the Boks and Lions to shape up as one of the all-time great battles between these two age-old rivals.

After the Springboks were humbled in the second half of the opening Test, there is a real sense that the intensity of their response this Saturday could be a thing of brutal beauty.

In the opposite camp, Warren Gatland will be warning his troops to expect an almighty backlash, and it’s the reason why he has firmed up his midfield with the selection of Chris Harris in one of three changes to a starting lineup that some may have felt could have remained intact after the weekend’s triumphant heroics.

The Boks have also made subtle but far-reaching team alterations, one of which is the return to a six-two forwards-to-backs split on the bench.

Among the two-man contingent covering the backline, Willemse’s role has increased tenfold in terms of importance as he will now cover flyhalf in addition to fullback and centre.

Should Handre Pollard need to be replaced, Willemse would surely also have to adopt the goal-kicking duties.

In what will be his ninth Test match, the Bok coaches have placed considerable trust in Willemse for this all-important must-win Test.

READ: Bok bench, Willemse empowered to inject energy

To the youngster’s credit, though, he looked relaxed and confident when chatting to the media earlier this week, stating that he was more than comfortable with the multifaceted role he was being asked to perform.

“I’ve been in the system for a few years now, so I’m used to the structures, and with the versatility I have been playing 15, 10 and a little bit at 12. Because I’m familiar with the way we do things – and having someone like Damian de Allende to learn from – that helps me a lot.

“To have the coaches backing me, giving me the freedom and license to go out and play, particularly in such a big series, it’s important for me to grab my opportunities and play with everything I have for my country.

“The coaches have been clear with the plans for me now that I’m covering 10, 12 and 15,” he added. “Playing 12 is not all that different to 10. It’s about being in the frontline and chasing kicks, but I have played Currie Cup and club rugby at 12, so it hasn’t been too much of a change … I feel fortunate to be able to fulfil different roles and I’m really enjoying it.”

Willemse was also asked about the mood in the Bok camp after last weekend’s defeat, and his response suggested there was no cause for panic.

“We’ve been in this position before, and the one thing I can guarantee is that we are not going to sit back and feel sorry for ourselves. There is still everything to play for. We’ve been working hard this week and will be giving it our all.”

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Craig Lewis