Rugby Championship

Willemse: I never thought I'd be a Bok at 20

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Damian Willemse (Gallo)
Damian Willemse (Gallo)

Cape Town - Damian Willemse had a tough introduction to Test rugby on Saturday, but he is off the mark in the green and gold.

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Still just 20-years-old, Willemse came on for the final 20 minutes of Saturday's 34-21 win over Argentina in Durban. 

Bok coach Rassie Erasmus had been vocal all week on his desire to use Willemse at fullback, but due to the tight nature of the game and how well Willie le Roux was playing in the No 15 jersey, Erasmus had to make another plan. 

Willemse instead replaced Andre Esterhuizen, with Handre Pollard shifting across to inside centre to accommodate the newbie at flyhalf. 

It was a high-pressure situation, and Willemse threw a horrible pass that directly resulted in an Argentina try before kicking one out on the full that put the Boks under even more pressure. 

In the end, the hosts had more than enough in the tank to get over the line, but it was not always comfortable. 

There is no doubt that Willemse, who attended Paul Roos on a scholarship, will have learnt a lot from his first Bok cap.

He could be forgiven, though, for feeling a bit raw immediately after Saturday's clash.

"I didn't think I would be sitting here at the age of 20, even though I always believed I could," he said.

"Sitting here tonight there are mixed emotions. I'm really happy that we got the result and it is a massive honour and privilege to wear the Springbok jersey.

"There are a lot of Springboks that came and went and that is not part of my plan. We want to be great Springboks. There is a plan and we're working really hard towards that."

Talking about his horror pass, Willemse displayed the maturity that has been a standout feature of his time at the Stormers in 2018. 

"These kinds of things happen and it’s fixable. I’m just glad I got a run tonight. It’s not a big sweat for me," he said.

"I think always for young guys it’s important to work hard and learn. That’s what I’m trying to do … take it all in and throw it into one basket, shake it up and see what we come up with. You need a mature flyhalf, you need a good quarterback and I think that maturity is very important.

"I’m just going to stay in the moment and look to work on my mistakes."

Willemse is a part of the 28-man Bok squad flying to Argentina on Monday for Saturday's return leg in Mendoza. 

He does not know what his role will be yet, but at this stage he is just keen to get more minutes under the belt and feed off those around him.

"I am a flyhalf and I prefer flyhalf, but I’m available anywhere the coach wants to pick me. I’ll give my all for the jersey and the team," Willemse said.

"Handre (Pollard) and Elton (Jantjies) have been instrumental this week.

"Handre has helped me with the plays and finer details, telling me where to look, and Elton was just keeping me calm throughout the week.

"I'm just milking all of the information I can out of these guys ... it's great to have players like them."

Kick-off on Saturday is at 21:10 (SA time).

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