Damian Willemse will benefit from a more focused and structured Springbok game plan in a redemptive performance at flyhalf against France on Saturday, writes DYLAN JACK.
The Springbok coaches have correctly decided to back Willemse to continue in the No 10 jersey, ignoring the masses calling for the DHL Stormers star to be dropped or shifted after a shaky showing in Dublin.
Willemse was quickly shifted from the goal-kicking responsibilities against the Irish – an odd decision when one considers the kick that he missed had just over a 50% average success rate – with Cheslin Kolbe taking over, to limited success.
The playmaker, who more regularly features at fullback and centre in his club and Test career, appeared uncomfortable as the Springboks were frenetic in their execution at the Aviva Stadium. As the players around him struggled to control the game, Willemse seemed to feel the pressure and his tactical kicking deserted him when he needed to be pinpoint.
It didn’t help that the Springboks’ approach towards the Test match had a very experimental feel about it. From shifting the goal-kicking responsibilities wildly, to seemingly giving up on taking the three points when they were almost certainly there to be taken, it felt like the Boks were happy to try things out, even if it meant missing out on a win against their 2023 World Cup pool opponents.
However, the selections for the upcoming Test against France point to a very different and more focused approach. Willie le Roux and a back-in-form Faf de Klerk are back to add direction to the backline, which appears to have been specifically designed to deal with France’s long-range kicking game and not get sucked into running into a wall of Les Bleus defenders.
Le Roux and Willemse have proved an effective 15-10 combination for the Springboks this year, ever since sparking a memorable comeback in the first Test of the series against Wales. The Bok attack has looked at its most electric when both players are on the park.
Jacques Nienaber all but confirmed in the pre-match press conference that Kolbe will be the main goal-kicker on Saturday, with Willemse and De Klerk serving as backups. This should also help free Willemse up and allow him to focus more on executing the Bok game plan at 10.
In the short, Willemse has shown in the historic win over the Wallabies in Sydney and against Argentina in Buenos Aires that he can operate effectively as a Test rugby flyhalf. His long-term future for the Springboks is more likely at inside centre or fullback, but, with a team around him that’s more focused on getting a vital win at the Stade Vélodrome , there’s no reason to abandon all hope on him guiding the Boks on Saturday.
A little bit of faith can go a long way.
Photo: Twitter: @Springboks