The Springboks are brimming with confidence ahead of the first test match of the incoming series against Wales at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
Much has been said about players being used in different positions and some even playing out of position. But the Boks are eager to prove that they have planned for all outcomes and that the players are being used to the best of their abilities.
The test match at Loftus Versfeld has been declared a sell-out as the Boks and their supporters prepare to reunite for the first time since 2019.
The Springbok pride themselves on having a crop of players who can play in different positions as and when the need arises.
Damian Willemse, who played at inside centre with the United Rugby Championship-winning Stormers, will turn out at fullback for the Springboks and act as cover for Elton Jantjies at fly-half.
Willemse is eager to impress and establish himself in the green and gold.
“I’m excited to play back at fullback. I think the last time I played fullback was back in the regular season against the Blue Bulls, but it has been a good week, obviously getting my reps in at fullback when for the Stormers I know the role was 12. But I’m excited for the weekend and slotting back into fullback,” says Willemse.
The versatility of the players runs so deep that should the need arise, and especially with just two backs on the bench, a player such as Kwagga Smith, and a utility loose forward could even offer cover at wing.
But that would be in the most extreme of circumstances.
“I played sevens for a lot of tournaments. There is a lot of space to cover there also but it’s the last go if something happens but I am really keen on that challenge. I made my Currie cup debut on the wing. For me, if that challenge comes I will step up to it and I’ll be really excited if it comes,” says Smith.
The emphasis is on versatility, not utility, and the Boks stress it is all part of meticulous planning. Any less would be cheating the supporters and with the prospect of a packed-out stadium on Saturday, the Springboks are eager to give it their all.
“Playing for our fans is very important for us. If we don’t have fans we won’t be able to sit here because they go to the stadiums and they buy the tickets and that’s the way rugby started and that’s why we are getting paid to do it and to entertain the fans for us. Hearing that Loftus is packed to 100% capacity is really nice and we are really excited about it because last year, with the British and Irish Lions, it was difficult. You play a game but the atmosphere is not there and I think Loftus is definitely going to have a huge atmosphere this weekend,” Smith explains.
“All of us, we are really excited to be back at home to play. For me, it is going to be special. This is my first start in South Africa probably with fans there and obviously, as a kid watching the incoming series and I always wanted to be a part of that and play for the Springboks and it is going to be special and there is a big excitement and buzz within the team this week,” Willemse reiterates.
It’s the first test of the Boks’ international season and more than anything cohesion will be the goal.
Getting everyone on the same page in a test match situation and against quality opposition like Wales, and this could be the start of a very productive 2022.