Former Vodacom Bulls lock Paul Willemse says no one from SA Rugby made any effort to convince him not to play for France, or that he had a future representing the Springboks.
Schooled at Monument High School in Krugersdorp, Willemse appeared to be on track for Bok honours after making five appearances for the triumphant Junior Boks in 2012.
But when then Bok coach Heyneke Meyer announced a squad of 80 players in preparation for the 2015 World Cup, it did not include Willemse’s name.
Speaking to ‘Le French Rugby Podcast’, the former Bulls bruiser discussed his move to France and inevitable call-up to their national team, where he has become a mainstay.
The 29-year-old was asked if anyone from SA Rugby reached out to him when it was known that he was considering giving his allegiance to Les Bleus, and he replied: “I never even had one conversation with South African Rugby, in my whole career.
“I came out in the media here that I was going to play in the France team, I knew what to expect. If they knew I was available, someone would contact me or my agent at least. You know, ‘Tell Paul just to wait a bit’, or whatever.
“When I started that journey, and it’s a long journey because later on they changed the rule that I had to do my passport first. So, I did that as well and it’s a long process. But, like I said, throughout my whole career I never had one conversation with SA Rugby or anyone.
“So, in the end I was led into my French career. That’s why I say I’ve never had to make a choice, either South Africa or the French team, because my life just went that direction.
“The choice I had to make was to commit and go for the French team with everything I’ve got. As soon as I made that decision, even if South Africa had contacted me then [I wouldn’t have switched back].
“If they did speak to me, even the year before, I would have said ‘No’. But they never spoke with me and I have never had a conversation with them.
“The thing is South Africa are so blessed with massive talents in the lock position, it never felt like they needed me. They have four or five massive locks, world-class locks. I said in a previous interview, South Africa doesn’t need me, but I also don’t need them. That p***ed off a few people.”