Damian Willemse has lauded Frans Steyn’s leadership qualities, saying the 34-year-old willingly shares his knowledge and experiences with the youngsters in the Bok squad.
During the recently-concluded series against the British & Irish Lions, Willemse was preferred as the ‘utility back’ on the substitutes bench, effectively taking over the role performed by Steyn at the 2019 World Cup.
On Friday, Willemse chatted to the media ahead of the Australian leg of the Rugby Championship, and said he continued to soak up as much knowledge from Steyn.
“I’ve been training with Frans all week. He is such a chilled guy, but he is also working very hard on his game. He also brings a sense of calm and he always comes up with a plan,” Willemse explained.
“He’s been helping a lot of the youngsters such as me, Aphelele [Fassi] and Grant Williams, not only with our game management but also teaching us a few tricks.”
Meanwhile, Willemse says the Springboks are determined to defend the Rugby Championship title they won back in 2019.
South Africa were crowned Rugby Championship winners in 2019, but withdrew from the 2020 tournament due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand played a Tri-Nations competition last year, which the All Blacks won.
The Boks have since clinched a 2-1 series win over the British & Irish Lions and beat Argentina twice in their two opening games of the 2021 Rugby Championship. South Africa are now in Australia, where the remainder the tournament will be held and have completed two weeks of mandatory quarantine ahead of their first away Test against the Wallabies next week.
Willemse said that while the Boks are excited to be out of isolation and enjoying the freedom what comes with that, they are still focused on the job at hand and will not be sidetracked.
“We’ve been in a bubble for a while now, but we are enjoying one another’s company. We are training hard, but we have also been playing cricket and having some fun.
“As much as we are looking forward to being out of quarantine, the main thing for us in the next four weeks is rugby. We have to ensure that we continue to deliver the results on the field,” Willemse said.
“Aphelele and I were talking earlier about how small the margins are in Test rugby.”
“One mistake can cost you five or seven points with the opposition’s skillful play, so we need to play smart rugby and ensure that we do not make errors at the back.”
Willemse, who covers flyhalf, fullback and inside centre, has been a regular feature in South Africa’s match 23 since the start of the Lions series and says he enjoys his current role as impact player and appreciates the faith placed in him by the coaching staff despite there being more experienced players than him in the squad.
“I’m really fortunate to be in the squad and I’ve been enjoying the challenge,” he said.
“Playing in the Tests against the British & Irish Lions and then Argentina helped me develop my skillset and game management.
“As with any challenge it will take hard work, but the coaches back me and I want to make the most of the opportunity if I am in the matchday 23 [in the Tests against Australia and New Zealand].
“I am happy with where the team is going and the trust the coaches have placed in me, and I am looking forward to the next four weeks.”
“I don’t have a favourite position, my goal is to be selected for the matchday squad.
“We have a lot of quality players in the squad with between 40 and over 70 Test caps, such as Frans Steyn, Willie le Roux, Jesse Kriel and Morne Steyn who I am competing with. But it is all about understanding the game plan and executing it as effectively as possible.
“I am looking forward to developing my skill set as much as I can, so we can build on the performances we have delivered so far this season as a team.”
The Boks take on the Wallabies next Saturday in the first of four away Tests.
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