There has been a lot of speculation in recent weeks around Jacque Nienaber's decision to play Damian Willemse at Fullback and form domestic Fullback, Aphelele Fassi, at wing. The opinion amongst fans appears to be that Fassi should be bled at Fullback which will allow him to eventually take over from the incumbent, Willie le Roux. It could le Roux however who provides some insight as to why the Boks have preferred Willemse at 15.
Willemse made waves at a young age and was touted as 'the next big thing' coming out of high school. He has had his moments but has not achieved the success that some believed he would by this age. This struggle to ascend to world class status is due in part to Willemse not settling at one position. The Boks have seen value in his versatility though and have used him in the role Frans Steyn played during the World Cup. So far this international season we have seen him at Inside centre, Wing and Fullback. Before the Boks' first match against Argentina it was made clear that the team would be resting several players who racked up a lot of minutes during the Lions series. Many believed that this would be Fassi's time to prove himself at Fullback. Instead, we saw him in the 11 jersey with Willemse being given the nod at 15. This confused fans who view Fassi as the clear successor to le Roux.
The Sharks Fullback was not as well know as Willemse during his school days but when one watches some of his highlights from his time at Dale College it is evident that he was bound to make an impact at the professional level. He has gone from strength to strength and has the potential to follow in the footsteps of great Springbok outside backs such as Percy Montgomery and Bryan Habana who played more than 100 tests. Many picture his legacy to be built in the Fullback position. Jacques Nienaber preferring Willemse at Fullback could mean that Fassi has to pave his way at 11, taking over from Mapimpi when he retires. This decision might enrage a lot of fans but Willie le Roux's style of play could actually shed some light on the situation.
Le Roux has been invaluable as a playmaker for the Boks, setting up tries for wings such as Dyantyi, Nkosi, Mapimpi and Kolbe since being entrusted with the 15 jersey by Rassie Erasmus back in 2018.
This playmaking skill was on display again in the Boks' second test against Argentina when le Roux delivered a crisp pass after coming in on the wrap-around to set up Mapimpi for the team's first Try. It is this playmaking ability that could be why Nienaber would prefer Willemse at 15. Having spent a large part of his career at Fly-half, Willemse is no stranger to the responsibility of running a game and setting up the backs outside of him. Fassi on the other hand has mostly made his mark through individual pieces of brilliance and his incredible athleticism, much like Mapimpi. It could be that Nienaber wants a like for like replacement for le Roux and therefore believes that Willemse is the best option to take over the Fullback position.