Rugby-Versatile Willemse eager to take his chance against Wales

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup - Final - South Africa Training - Arcs Urayasu Park, Urayasu, Chiba, Japan - November 1, 2019 South Africa's Damian Willemse during training REUTERS/Edgar Su

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (Reuters) - Much is made of South Africa’s power in the forward pack, but fullback Damian Willemse is eager to showcase their artistry with ball in hand when the Springboks host Wales in the first of three tests at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.

The Boks will play in front of a full house of 52,000 fans, the first time they have appeared before a crowd of any sort on South African soil since before they lifted the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

For a versatile player like Willemse, who has 15 caps but has been in and out of the side in the past few years, it is a chance to stake a claim for a regular starting berth ahead of the more experienced Willie le Roux.

"I’ve been working on covering a few positions for a few years now and I’ve played multiple positions at the Stormers," Willemse told reporters on Wednesday.

"I just want to go out there and give it my best by giving the forwards a good platform and to do what is expected of me. Hopefully it goes well and the result goes our way."

Replacing Le Roux, a player who has been a favourite of the Boks' coaching staff through good and poor form, will be a big task, something he acknowledges.

"Willie is a great player and I have a lot of respect for him," said Willemse, who can also play flyhalf and centre.

"He actually helped me at training today, telling me what to communicate on the field. He is an incredible player."

Willemse is expecting to field plenty of high balls with Wales likely to test the back three that also includes wings Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi.

"Wales are good at tactical kicking, but they can also change their game-plan," he said. "So we are expecting that, but we have to be ready for whatever they bring on the day."

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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