Nienaber: Willemse can be a valuable utility option

Jacques Nienaber has hinted that Damian Willemse could be a successor of sorts to Frans Steyn as a player capable of covering multiple positions in the backline.

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Reflecting on Friday’s match against Georgia the Springbok coach accepted that Frans Steyn had not had a night to remember, but played down any concerns over the veteran’s form.

“It was one of those games. Frans made errors and every time he made a mistake he tried to correct it. He did some good things too. Sometimes that’s how it goes,” Nienaber told Rapport in a one-on-one interview.

Nienaber was, however, pleased with the cameo performance put in by Damian Willemse who replaced Steyn at inside centre. He feels that by playing Willemse at 12 he frees him up to play his natural game.

“Damian was always an option for us at 10, 12 and 15. He is definitely a guy who can fulfil that role. Look at Aphelele Fassi, the skillset that a winger and a fullback have to have are very similar.

“Except at fullback you need to be able to direct the play. By playing Fassi at wing, all he has to do is what is expected of him. The same goes for 12.

“If you think back to where Dan Carter started – the All Blacks started him at 12. He didn’t direct the play, the 10 did that. The same skills that a guy needs to be a good 10, you need to be a good 12.

“Damian has that required skillset and everyone saw that against Georgia. He can become a good 10/12/15 option for us; people forget he’s still only 23.”

The Bok coach was also full of praise for Kwagga Smith who started in the unusual position of eighth man against Georgia. The former Lions back-rower put in an industrious performance and came away with a try for his efforts.

“Kwagga was solid. He brings something different to the team. His defence was solid and he brings a bit of pace to the play.

“He gets a different kind of momentum in play. Duane gets momentum and stops momentum, and Kwagga does that too – but just in a different way. He uses his pace and his agility to get across the gain line.”

Though Nienaber was understandably pleased to come away with victory against a fired-up Georgian side, he recognised that there was still work to do for the Boks, particularly around their lack of accuracy.

“It’s difficult to measure intensity. Look at the All Blacks, they beat Tonga 102-0 but they didn’t have intensity. Tonga didn’t make it difficult for the All Blacks at the breakdown point, they didn’t make leg tackles.

“Georgia came at us. They made it difficult for us at the breakdown. But I hear what’s being said, our performance was definitely not of the intensity that you expect of a top-four country in the world.

“We tried to speed up play, but you can only up the intensity if you’re accurate. We weren’t accurate in the first 30 minutes. We’d put together a few phases but then knock it on. Then another few phases and we’d give away a penalty.

“We weren’t accurate, and that makes it difficult to drive the intensity.”