Stormers flyhalf Damian Willemse says he has had no problems fitting into the Junior Springboks squad, despite joining them late in their preparations for the World Rugby U20 Championship. DYLAN JACK reports.
Willemse was named as the team’s vice-captain at the capping ceremony on Wednesday, forming part of the leadership group with fellow Stormer and Junior Boks captain Salmaan Moerat.
Despite missing out on the team’s recent tour to the UK – where they beat Scotland, Wales and England – Willemse told SARugbymag.co.za that he has been able to slot in seamlessly.
‘I wasn’t really concerned about that [coming in late]. We have most of the players from last year, so it was easy for me to get back into it. When the Stormers had a bye, I joined [high-performance manager] Louis [Koen] here in Stellenbosch to touch on a couple of things they did in the UK. So it was easy, the players made me feel welcome and coach [Chean] Roux and I stayed in touch a lot during their training. So it wasn’t such a big thing.’
The 20-year-old added that adjusting to a leadership role should not be a problem for him, due to the core of experienced players who have been retained from last year.
‘I have been playing with most of the players here for a while, like Salmaan. The guys are good listeners and followers so they play their part and if we can bring ours, that will motivate them.
‘There is always pressure,’ Willemse added. ‘For me, it is simply about focusing on what I have to do. As a flyhalf, a lot of decision-making depends on me. I need to trust the guys outside me. A lot of our opponents are going to be targeting me, Salmaan and the other guys who played last year. The team knows that and if we get our plans together, that won’t play such a big part.‘
Willemse says after a disappointing campaign last year, where the team was beaten 24-22 by England in the semi-finals, they are not putting themselves under pressure to win the tournament.
‘There are definitely things that we have been working on. Last year, we were too focused on winning when we should have been taking it one game at a time. The plans are there, we have world-class coaches. It is up to us now to outwit and outsmart our opponents. Off the field, there are things that we have been working on that helped boost the team.’
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