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'Is he the right guy you want there?': Matfield questions Willemse

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

Former Springboks captain Victor Matfield has questioned the inclusion of Damian Willemse on the Springboks bench after the side lost 28-26 to the Wallabies on the Gold Coast.


The dynamic playmaker was the utility player selected by Jacques Nienaber and his staff, and was injected into the game early for Handre Pollard after an errant pass from the starting flyhalf was thrown over the sideline just outside his own 22.

Pollard had an off-night with the boot, missing eight potential points with two missed penalties and a conversion. One penalty was almost directly in front and clanged off the upright back into the field of play.

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The Springboks goal-kicking woes didn’t end there, as Willemse shanked the conversion wildly after Malcolm Marx had scored the go-ahead try to put the Springboks up 26-25. If Willemse kick was made, the visitors would have restored a three-point buffer.

Matfield was critical of Willemse in his post-match comments, saying he isn’t sure that Willemse is “a great player”, and that the kick he missed “wasn’t difficult”.

The 127-test veteran asked whether the team should have had a “90 percent kicker on the bench”, possibly an obscure reference to Morne Steyn, a former teammate of Matfield’s, who was able to kick a clutch penalty in the third Lions test after Pollard was also pulled early in that game.

“Tonight we were just a little bit off,” Matfield explained to the SuperSport panel during the post-match show.


“So we need to pick ourselves up, even have a look at the bench.

“I’m not sure that Damian Willemse is a great rugby player. Is he ready to take over from Handre Pollard if he goes off at 10? Handre never has an off day so normally you would play him through.

“Is he the right guy you want there at the end with a kick for poles? It wasn’t a difficult kick. He kicked it way right.

“Shouldn’t there be someone who is a 90 percent kicker on the bench?”

Although Willemse missed the two points, he surely saved seven when Michael Hooper found a break down the left-hand side with less than three minutes to go.

In the clear, Hooper tried to draw the last man and pass to Reece Hodge, but Willemse made a great read to slide off Hooper and tackle Hodge, forcing the ball loose and winning a scrum.


It was a try-saving effort that kept the Springboks alive until the Wallabies won a penalty with time up on the clock.

Some Springbok fans were disappointed in Matfield’s comments, unhappy that he had failed to recognise the positive impact of Willemse’s cameo, while at the same time offering Pollard a free pass for his off-night that left eight points on the table.

Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber defended his flyhalf’s performance after the game, calling his showing “solid” and said “it is what it is” regarding the missed kicks .

“I don’t think a kicker goes out to miss a kick and, in fairness, Handre was quite good in the warm-up,” said Nienaber.

“He was solid. Another day it goes a foot left and it is over, even the long-distance one he missed in the first half, but it is ifs and buts. It is what it is.”

Nienaber pinned the loss on discipline, having outscored the Wallabies three tries to one, they conceded seven penalty goals as Quade Cooper took every opportunity from the tee landing 100 percent of his kicks.

“We scored three tries to one and we gave them 23 points off the tee and that is the reason why we lost,” Nienaber said.

“I thought we made a couple of errors. I thought the first 20 minutes we were quite dominant, and we probably had control of the game, but then in the last 20 we lost control and they got a bit of a lead on us.

“I thought we did brilliantly to get back into the game and we lost it in the 82nd minute. And again it was discipline – we lost it because we conceded a penalty.”


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