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Monday, January 30, 2023

Jaden Hendrikse eyes ‘same page’ as Springbok halfpack partner Damian Willemse

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Johannesburg – Despite what coach Jacques Nienaber might argue, the crisis at No 10 has finally reared its ugly head, revealing the Springboks’ soft underbelly in that position.

The Bok mentor’s hand has been forced for Saturday’s second Rugby Championship clash against the Wallabies in Sydney (11.35am kickoff, SA time) after it was revealed at the team announcement that both Handre Pollard (knee) and Elton Jantjies (hand) are injured.

Strangely, this might be a boon for the under-pressure Boks as neither Pollard nor Jantjies have been in particularly good form this season.

Pollard had a nightmare in the 25-17 loss to the Australians this past week, while Jantjies has lacked match-fitness and game-time throughout the year.

Up steps Damian Willemse to pull on the No 10 jumper this weekend, and he will form a new halfback partnership with Jaden Hendrikse.

Willemse has played at pivot before, but probably not enough to be 100% convinced he will boss that channel.

“Unfortunately, we lost two flyhalves in one game,” Nienaber said, referring to the Adelaide defeat to the Wallabies.

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“It is unfortunate for the two guys that got injured, but it is fortunate for Damian. He has played for us at flyhalf this year in the first Welsh Test in Pretoria – he played there in the second half.

“We are looking forward to seeing him in that position again, and the combination between him and Willie (le Roux).”

Speaking of Le Roux, the reintroduction of the 33-year-old at fullback will please many pundits and supporters.

He has often entered the Bok attack as first receiver this year, adding an extra dimension when they are on the front foot.

As Nienaber alluded, how he does so with Willemse this weekend will be an important facet if the

Boks are to rediscover that winning momentum.

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Hendrikse, meanwhile, gave some insight into his developing relationship with his new partner – a small window into the possible Bok future.

“With me and (Willemse), it is just building a good relationship and understanding each other during the week,” the 22-year-old Sharks star said.

“It is just sitting around each other and speaking about rugby, just getting to know each other. That is the main thing between me and him.

“We need to be on the same page and know what we have to do in each situation.”

Faf de Klerk has also paid for his sins during the recent loss and has been dropped from the side completely. Cobus Reinach, fresh off recuperating from injury, will sit on the bench as cover.

The 32-year-old hasn’t played rugby for some time, so once again, Nienaber is taking a gamble with a player that might not be match-fit. Even so, the Bok mentor remained confident of his choice.

Said Nienaber: “We have some quality nines with us in the squad … I think a lot of countries have had the same issue as we had, that there is no club rugby at the moment.

“A lot of the national teams currently in the Rugby Championship, who suffer injuries or get players back from injury, they wouldn’t have played a lot of rugby.

“Cobus has been brilliant with us, and we introduced him into training. I would like to see him bring his X-factor – he has a lot of it when he comes on.”

@FreemanZAR

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