- Damian Willemse was quick to credit the influence of the injured Elton Jantjies for his fine performance at flyhalf for the Springboks in Sydney.
- The legendary Lions pivot has taken Willemse under his wings since 2018 and provided a lot of mentorship again this week.
- Willemse also believes the Boks’ variation on attack was well balanced in the 24-8 win over the Wallabies.
An official Man of the Match award on his “debut” as a Springbok flyhalf proved an unexpected bonus for Damian Willemse, but he was never going to take the credit for it.
Instead, the gifted play-maker – who delivered an encouraging showing at pivot to illustrate his growing maturity at the highest level – praised the influence of fellow teammate Elton Jantjies for his performance.
Willemse was the direct beneficiary of Jantjies (hand) and Handre Pollard (knee) both sustaining injuries last week in Adelaide that ruled them out of contention for the eventual 24-8 win over the Wallabies in Sydney.
Yet, as has become part of his legend, Jantjies shrugged off his wretched luck and once again delivered on being the selfless non-playing, value-adding member so cherish by the Bok staff.
“Elton’s been massive, he’s an absolute team guy,” said Willemse.
“The way he’s helped me as a mentor when I came in as youngster in 2018 has been amazing. He’s helped me a lot with my kicking and my general play.
“I have to give him credit for my performance. He kept me calm and assisted me with my preparation during the week. He’s just such a selfless guy all round. Hats off to him.”
The legendary Lions flyhalf’s serene influence was probably part of the reason why Willemse believes his outing wasn’t as taxing as he expected.
“It wasn’t really that tough. I’ve been playing there at times since the Wales series,” he said.
“Tonight was maybe a bit of a different role. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a great honour but a lot of responsibility. I can’t take all the praise for my performance.
“Many people backed me and I have to say that the forwards gave a great platform.”
Willemse was particularly impressive in spearheading South Africa’s overall bigger willingness to keep ball in hand, but also had his moments as a tactical kicker, even if that part of his decision-making can still improve.
As a result, he believes the Boks’ attacking play was sufficiently varied.
“The balance was pretty good. We suffocated the Wallabies, we lots of territory and converted it into points,” said Willemse.
“I was supported really well by the tactical kicking from Willie [le Roux] as well as Jaden [Hendrikse], who I thought was outstanding.
“They gave us a lot of contestable kicks to chase and apply pressure from. The all-round balance was good.”