Coach Jacques Nienaber has defended Elton Jantjies’ error-strewn showing against Wales on Saturday, and was delighted with Damian Willemse’s match-winning performance. DYLAN JACK reports.
Willemse capped possibly his finest performance in a Springbok jersey to date by slotting the winning penalty after the hooter for a 32-29 comeback win over Wales.
Having started at fullback, Willemse shared the flyhalf responsibility with Willie le Roux in the second half after Jantjies was hooked at half time following a shoddy first half.
Not only was Willemse excellent under the high ball and in the carry, but he also stepped up and assumed the goal-kicking responsibilities, nailing both a touchline conversion and the late winner.
“I thought Damian did well and like we said during the week, he’s a project and he’s been one since 2018,” Nienaber said post-match.
“We’ve been slowly giving him more game time, experience, and confidence in our system and what we’d like him to do.
“I said in the week that he’s probably our next Frans Steyn in terms of covering at 10, 12 and 15. He had to cover 10 and 15 and I thought he did it excellently.
“I don’t know what the stats are in terms of his goal-kicking at the Stormers, but I do have to say that he kicked well,” Nienaber added. “I’m happy.”
When asked about the decision to start Jantjies, despite the 31-year-old’s obvious lack of regular game time going into the Test and documented off-field problems, Nienaber defended the experienced playmaker.
“Elton probably played less than 30 minutes this year. He did his shoulder and went through his rehab, but his Japan club did not go into the final so there weren’t any games to expose him to. The only exposure he had this whole year was in training.
“We needed to get him in some games. It will always take some time for a guy who has been out for such a long time. Lucky for us, he got 40 minutes under the belt today. You can train as much as you want, but there’s no pressure there. It was good to expose him to Test-match rugby.”
Not only did Jantjies struggle with his tactical kicking as the Boks fell 18-3 behind to Wales, but he also missed a couple of attempts at goal and sent a penalty beyond the dead-ball line.
Nienaber denied that the decision to take Jantjies off at half time was performance-related.
“No. The plan is to take a guy off whenever you feel like he has given everything. Sometimes, we will substitute a guy after 32 minutes and we have done that before. Once we feel they have done their jobs and what we have wanted to see, then we sub them.
“You must take performance in context. He hasn’t played any rugby. We expected it to be tough. It was good to get him 40 minutes. He will be better next week.”
Photo: EPA/KIM LUDBROOK