Edinburgh hooker Mike Willemse expects former club Southern Kings to be gunning for him

Edinburgh's Mike Willemse. Picture: Ross Parker / SNS
Edinburgh's Mike Willemse. Picture: Ross Parker / SNS
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With Stuart McInally out for a couple of weeks with bruised ribs, back-up Edinburgh hooker Mike Willemse is relishing the chance to start against his former club Southern Kings at BT Murrayfield tomorrow night.

The 26-year-old moved to the Scottish capital from the Port Elizabeth-based side last summer and, after replacing the Scotland man in the first half of last weekend’s 29-19 1872 Cup-levelling win over Glasgow at Murrayfield, is set to lock horns with some familiar faces.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “Those boys will be gunning for me but I’m looking forward to the challenge and it should be quite a nice one.”

Currently propping up the Conference B table with a solitary win this season, the Kings have struggled to make an impact since leaving Super Rugby to join the Guinness Pro14 a couple of years ago and are viewed as a team who can be dangerous on home soil but are not the best travellers.

That said, their sole win this season was an impressive one in Swansea, which showed that second-placed Edinburgh can’t be complacent this weekend.

“They’ve really been working hard. I’ve been speaking to a couple of the boys and they have definitely put some decent systems in place,” said Willemse. “The bigger picture is turning into a positive thing with their first away win against the Ospreys [in November]. I think they will be pretty happy about that and take that into this game.

“Looking at last year, the way that Kings beat Edinburgh back in Port Elizabeth [25-21], we will have to be on our A-game. We can’t take any games lightly and we will go into this one with a strong mind.”

Willemse has enjoyed working under head coach Richard Cockerill, himself a former hooker, and is hopeful of getting the nod this weekend, with Cameron Fenton likely to come in on the bench.

“We’ll see what Cockers puts out in terms of rotation,” said Willemse. “A couple of boys will have to be rested just in terms of games for Scotland and whatnot… The nice thing about it is, with the World Cup, we have been able to rotate the squad quite a bit so anyone getting an opportunity is ready to do the job.

“Whoever is in that [hooker] position is pretty comfortable there and will be looking to put their hand up.

“We really get on very well and all help each other when we can. There is a really good vibe between us all. We’re happy to help when we can. Whoever is on the field, we want them to do as well as they can for the team and hopefully produce the goods.”

Many South African recruits come to Scotland and set their sights on an international future with their adopted homeland, but Willemse still dreams of representing the world champion Springboks and believes the move to Edinburgh has done no harm to that goal.

“I think so. I’ve definitely improved my game since coming here in terms of setpiece, being able to deal with various different situations,” said the Cape Town-born front-row forward.

“Cockers and the rest of the coaching staff drive a hard forward pack. They want a strong edge and obviously rely quite a bit on the hookers to get the boys going.

“It’s just been really good for me and my career to be involved in such a good pack. All the work off the field, during the week, is something that I will take with me for the rest of my life.”

Willemse enjoyed Christmas with the ever-expanding South African contingent.

“Yes, with all the Scottish boys going to their families we had a nice South African family Christmas here,” he said.

“I’ve really enjoyed Edinburgh. It’s a really beautiful city and everyone that has come to visit me has said countless times how badly they would love to live in this city.

“The people are awesome and I just love everything about it. Obviously, it’s been a bit of a change-up in terms of the weather but it is what it is.”