After a breakout campaign for the Stormers, Damian Willemse says he’s got much more to offer as he prepares to start in the Springboks’ season-opener against Wales in Pretoria on Saturday.
In the first of three Tests against Wales in July, Willemse will earn his 15th Bok cap in his second start on home soil, following the 32-12 victory over Argentina at an empty Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium last year.
A sell-out crowd is expected at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, which will make the occasion even more special for Willemse.
“This will be my first start for the Springboks in front of fans,” said Willemse. “Since I grew up, I’ve been watching the team play [at Loftus Versfeld], so it is going to be special. There is certainly a buzz in the air within the team and we are very excited for Saturday.”
Willemse’s last start for the Springboks came at fullback against Wales in Cardiff in November, but he only lasted 13 minutes before he was substituted after suffering a concussion.
“I have had a few opportunities to play for the Springboks, but there is still a lot to come. This weekend is a great opportunity for me to showcase myself and put myself out there. Not to try and be too desperate, but to do what the team requires from me. I am just excited to start. Hopefully, I can play really well and we can win.”
Willemse’s versatility will be handy for Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber as he opted for a six-two split of forwards and backs on the bench, based partly on the Stormers playmaker’s capacity to cover fullback, centre and flyhalf.
“I’ve been working on covering a few positions for a few years now and I’ve played multiple positions at the Stormers,” said Willemse.
“I have also been working on it at training, so I just want to go out there and give it my best by giving the forwards a good platform and to do what is expected of me. Hopefully it goes well, and the results go our way.”
Nienaber is without regular flyhalf Handre Pollard for Saturday’s Test and Elton Jantjies starts at No 10, with Willie le Roux also covering multiple positions from the bench.
“If Elton goes down, I can cover at 10 or 12. Willie is also coming in and he is very good at playing as the first receiver and running the pods. It depends what the coaches decide. If they want to move me to 10 or move Willie there.”
Speaking of Le Roux, the experienced fullback has come under fire for his recent performances, but Willemse offered some insight into how important he can be during preparation for such important Tests.
“Willie is a great player and I have a lot of respect for him,” said Willemse, who attended the same school as Le Roux – Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch.
“He actually helped me at training today telling me what to communicate on the field. He is an incredible player and I have no doubt that if he takes the field, he will play a big part.”
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix