CAPE TOWN – Damian Willemse insists that “I don’t have a preferred position”, and just being part of the Springbok match-23 is his main goal right now.
Of course, most 23-year-old rugby players would say that, especially in a public press conference. But is that part of the problem in trying to find his best place on a rugby field?
Being a jack of all trades – and as the saying goes, a master of none – may just result in Willemse staying on the bench for the foreseeable future.
And that is a problem in itself. It is unclear where Bok coach Jacques Nienaber wants the Strand product to settle down.
He has been used at fullback and inside centre this season, coming off the bench – with flyhalf seemingly out of the picture.
He has looked lively at No 12, but Damian de Allende is entrenched in that position, while Willie le Roux is the incumbent and Aphelele Fassi is pushing hard at fullback.
So, while Willemse is happy to just be in the squad for the moment, he will have to make a call on where he would like to specialise in future, having been spread across the backline in his 11 Test caps to date.
He added during a press conference on Friday, speaking from the Gold Coast in Australia, that he is not sure what will happen position-wise when he returns to the Stormers and Western Province after his Bok duties.
“I don’t have a preferred position – for me, a preferred position is almost to try and make the 23! There are a lot of quality players who aren’t fortunate enough to make the match-23 – guys like Frans Steyn, Jesse Kriel, Morné Steyn, guys with 40, 50, 60 caps behind their names,” Willemse said ahead of next Sunday’s Rugby Championship clash against Australia at the CBUS Super Stadium on the Gold Coast.
“It’s all about developing my skill-set, working with the coaches, understanding the plan that’s there for me, and executing that. I’ve been enjoying the challenge, and I hope to build on that.
“I’ve been enjoying the challenge leading up to the Lions series, and the Argentina Tests. The coaches are really helping me to develop my skill-set – whether it’s required at number 15 or 12.
“Especially Coach Stokke (Mzwandile Stick) with the high balls… we’ve been working really hard on that, and on game management stuff if I’m going to play at number 15.
“At number 12, there is a clear role for me as well. I’m really enjoying my opportunity, and I want to keep on building on that to give the best to the team.”
The Boks will only complete their 14-day quarantine period sometime next week, around Friday, before Sunday’s clash against the Wallabies, and Willemse is looking forward to the extra freedoms the players will enjoy.
“Everyone is really excited about going into ‘normal life’, if I can call it that, again. We have been in the bubble for quite some time, but for us as a team, we are really enjoying each other’s company,” he said.
“We are staying in a really nice hotel on the Gold Coast, and there’s a vibe in the team – everyone is getting along, playing cricket, having fun games. We had a nice break before we flew over to Australia, where the guys enjoyed each other’s company.
“For the next four weeks, it’s going to be rugby-focused, letting rugby stay the main thing and making sure that we continue to deliver the results on the field.
“Everyone is excited about what’s coming – I want to go to the beach!”