We caught up with JWC 2012 Ambassador and RWC 2007 winning Springbok Ashwin Willemse ahead of the tournament kicking off in South Africa.
Ashwin, only a couple of days out from the tournament, how excited are you now that it’s here?
For me now it’s still hard to realise that it’s actually now, we have been talking about it and waiting for it for a months now. As far as excitement goes it’s more matter that you can’t wait for that whistle to go and for the games to start.
With you being an ex-player do you understand how the players just want Monday to come?
From the day that you are announced as part of the squad, which is a couple of weeks before the tournament, the only thing you want is for that kick-off day to come. There’s a nervousness that goes with being part of the squad but if you manage to contain it as a player then that’s what makes it all worth the while waiting for.
What do you think is going through the South African team’s minds with the fact that they have the opportunity of playing at home?
I think that, for a player, playing at home is a matter of preparing yourself and also of knowing the responsibility that comes with it, so I think there will be a lot of pressure. As a player you are trying to make sure that you can contain that pressure and not let it get the better of you.
You just have to deal with the pressure, understand the situation and enjoy the environment. I think the players now are enjoying every moment of it and realising what a great opportunity they are given to be playing in such a prestigious tournament in their backyard, and that is the biggest dream of any rugby player.
Is this home advantage what can actually make the difference between what finishing say third place or winning the title?
You always talk about what is the difference between winning and losing. If you look at how all the players are preparing at the maximum of their skills and abilities you realise the difference is in that bit of extra motivation.
That extra bit of pressure you put on yourself as far as performance is concerned, as an individual and as a team is what makes the difference in the end. So if they manage to make sure they can cultivate the pressure of playing at home, I believe that might give them the added advantage that will allow the Junior Boks to go all the way.
You are, of course, hoping personally that South Africa can do it, but who are the other sides to watch?
If you look at New Zealand their record speaks for themselves so without a doubt they will be the favourites coming into the tournament. It will be nice to see the European teams doing well and also the smaller unions improving, but I will be supporting the Junior Boks as a South African. It would be nice to see them win, maybe in a final clash against one of the underdogs!
Rugby played such a big part in your life, you enjoyed success at age grade level, is it nice now to be on the other side as an Ambassador?
I believe this is probably the greatest compliment I have been given as far as sports in concerned. As a player you have all these hopes and believes but you never really know where it’s going to take you. Standing here now knowing what the ending looks like, looking back at the road while being part of this great event as an ambassador I feel a great sense of comfort and gratitude.
It’s also a great opportunity to showcase South Africa and it’s great rugby history?
Indeed, I believe that this tournament is not only great from a rugby perspective, it also gives the opportunity to the world to see our beautiful country and what it has to offer. From the vineyards in Stellenbosch, Table Mountain and Robben Island there are so many attractions for tourists, and for South Africa it’s also an opportunity to get some good publicity on that front.