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The 'big talking point' Springboks took time explaining on Tuesday

By Liam Heagney
Springboks' Damian Willemse (Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Jacques Nienaber has given a lengthy response regarding the current standard of Springboks’ goalkicking after it became a major talking point in the wake of last Saturday’s 19-16 Autumn Nations Series loss to Ireland in Dublin. For years, South Africa have always been able to rely on the likes of Handre Pollard, Elton Jantjies and Frans Steyn to harvest points from the kicking tee.

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However, with Pollard and Steyn unavailable through injury and with Jantjies still out of favour after he was sent home from Buenos Aires in September, the Springboks’ goalkicking spotlight has fallen on the 24-year-old Damian Willemse to start turning kicks into points this November.

A full-back by trade, last Saturday in Dublin was just the third time that Willemse started at No10 in his dozen starts for the Springboks and he also had the additional responsibility of goalkicking.

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The experience didn’t go well – he missed a straightforward first-half penalty and Cheslin Kolbe then struck an upright with a second-half conversion – and the post-mortem that took place amongst Springboks fans and in the media was critical amid claims that goalkicking was the difference between the two sides.

Nienaber has since named an XV containing five changes for this Saturday’s game against France in Marseille, but Willemse was again named as the starting No10 and the head coach defended his player. Asked how seriously he was taking the issue of goalkicking, Springboks boss Nienaber said: “I think I am going to take some time on this because I know it’s a big talking point.

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“How can I say? Let me start like this. We started in 2018 with Handre and Elton and they played the majority if not all the Test matches and we had our backup, a seasoned international that can play fly-half, in Frans Steyn. Unfortunately, we are where we are – that not one of the three of them is available.

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“I don’t want to call Damian our third choice because although he is only playing now his fourth Test at ten, we all know the quality of the player. But yes, he is a seasoned campaigner and has played 25 Tests or more for South Africa, but like I said it is only the fourth time that he has had to take over the goalkicking duties because in the past we always had other guys there.

“So yes, we are working on it like we do always. I mean, they measure the kicks in training, every single kick. We can tell you what the kicking percentage is in training but it’s a different thing to go into a Test match with the Springbok on your chest and you have to kick in front of 85,000 people and you know it is for your country.

“It’s a different kind of pressure and the only way they will get better in those situations is to play in that situation, to kick for goals in that situation. So yes, we are working incredibly hard on it. Yes, the players are taking it unbelievably seriously but unfortunately, the most senior experience international fly-half that we have is Damian Willemse and he is still getting into the ten position.

“Although he has played 25 Tests it’s only his fourth Test as ten and on that, a fly-half, if he can kick for goal, it is awesome but he must have a good attack, he must drive the forwards forward, he must drive the game for us, he must have a good defensive kicking game, he must spot space.

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“If he is required to ruck and go into a breakdown he needs to do that as well, so there are lots of things that make a good fly-half and goalkicking is one of them if you don’t have another goalkicker. But yeah, we are working incredibly hard on it.

“We know where we are in terms of that, know where we are in terms of having a seasoned fly-half. Injury has dealt us with the hand that we have. The guys are training their socks off trying and working hard to improve it and I trust it, they will.”

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