Former Springbok wing turned rugby analyst Ashwin Willemse has thrown his support behind the Southern Kings following their triumph over the Western Force at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium last Friday.
Willemse, who was the guest of honour at the SPAR Eastern Cape Charity Golf Day in Port Elizabeth last week, said he was “very content and impressed” with their dominating debut performance in the Super Rugby competition.
“I think it was a wonderful confidence booster for the players and also all the fans in the Eastern Cape.” Having replaced the Lions as South Africa’s fifth franchise in the competition, he said it was only natural that the team would come under close scrutiny and be judged more severely.
“It was a very challenging way that they entered Super Rugby, so the eyes of the rugby world were on them to see how they would perform. “I think they’ve answered their critics exceptionally well with the way they performed in their opening game.”
Although the Western Force finished second from the bottom of the log last year, Willemse said this in no way diminished the Kings’ victory. “As a retired player, I can tell you that every side in this competition is a force to be reckoned with. “The Force is not historically the strongest team in Super Rugby but they are nonetheless very competitive and I enjoy their brand of rugby.”
Referring to the golf day which raised R100 000 for the Nelson Mandela Bay Community Chest, the 31-year-old said he felt a great responsibility to assist with charitable ventures whenever he could. “In our country we have a lot of need. As individuals, there is that responsibility on all of us to assist in whatever way we can.”
In his address to participants at the Humewood Golf Club, the former SA Player of the Year shared his personal experiences in escaping a life of gangsterism and violent crime through rugby. “I am the embodiment of the goodwill that is out there.
By sharing my story, I show the tangible outcomes of giving. “It also puts a much bigger responsibility on a person like me to be part of creating a pathway for others to have the same opportunities that were presented to me.”
Willemse, who earned 19 Test caps and went on to represent his country at two World Cups, is one of the founding members of the GreenSmile Foundation, alongside Breyten Paulse.
“Its primary focus is sports, health and education and we aim to help youngsters find their niche in the world. “There’s nothing special about me. I’m just a person who was given an opportunity and made full use of it. This is my way of paying it forward.”
Image: Former Bok turned rugby analyst Ashwin Willemse gives his views on rugby and charity at the SPAR Eastern Cape Charity Golf Day in Port Elizabeth. Photo: Leon Hugo