Paul Willemse was brought to tears after he was sent off in the 32nd minute from the Vélodrome pitch having received two yellow cards. This event led to the Blues’ defeat against Ireland (17-38) during the opening of the Six Nations Tournament a week ago. Reflecting on the incident in an interview published in L’Équipe on Saturday morning, Willemse, who plays in the second line of the XV of France, stated, “It’s just rugby, there are much more serious things in life. But, obviously, that doesn’t take away my responsibility and my guilt. I know that if it didn’t work in this match, it’s because of me,” showing his sense of responsibility as a key player for the Blues.
Willemse, who plays for Montpellier, was penalized twice for high tackling. His first warning came in the 9th minute after a clearing on Andrew Porter’s head. Reflecting on his mindset after the first card, he said, “After this, I have a choice to make. Either I say to myself “Paul, calm down, be careful”. But what does that mean? So in my head, it’s more like “keep going as you did, you had a weird situation but you have to stay the same in your commitment”. If I start to get scared, I might as well give up on the match. So I return to the field with the same state of mind, the same desire to win my duels.”
Despite the intervention of the bunker, a rule that allows the referee to issue a yellow card initially and leaves the video officials to review the situation, Willemse quickly repeated his mistake. The 31-year-old international player, who has 32 caps with the Blues, was guilty of a second shoulder-to-head tackle on Caelan Doris, which led the referee to send him off the field after only half an hour of play.
“When hot, I have the impression that the contact is at the level of his shoulder but there is this movement that goes up and it touches the head. With this speed, as soon as I see the image on the screen, I understand. » Admitting that he was “on the limit”, and believing that “teams that are too clean win nothing”, the Pretoria (South Africa) native felt the impact of this tough blow while playing for the tricolor. “This match was a crazy opportunity for me. I missed the World Cup due to injury, I am not on the first list for the Tournament and I am called up after a withdrawal (that of Emmanuel Meafou). I was really hot! I had a second chance. And then everything falls apart.”
After being suspended for four weeks, a sentence reduced to three weeks after he agreed to an awareness training course at World Rugby, Willemse has had to miss the match against Scotland this Saturday (3:15 p.m.) and the hosting of Italy (Sunday February 25, 4 p.m.). However, he is already looking forward to the future. “It’s not a physical injury, but a mental injury. We need to do rehabilitation, regain confidence to avoid doubting my next tackles. For me, it is always the supreme pride in my career to wear the France team jersey. It will never change. I have a few years left in front of me and for the near future, I feel in good shape to continue at international level despite the sacrifices it requires,” he concluded.