Damian Willemse made the first of his 24 Springboks appearances in 2018

Marseille (AFP) - South Africa fly-half Damian Willemse said it was “great” to experience a sold-out Marseille crowd on Saturday before next year’s Rugby World Cup despite the 30-26 loss to France.

The Webb Ellis trophy holders will play two group games, against Scotland and Tonga, at the Stade Velodrome in less than 10 months’ time.

Before the France defeat they spent the week in the city of Toulon, 70km up the Mediterranean coast, where they will be based during the tournament.

“It’s a great stadium, it was great to play in front of the French crowd,” Willemse told reporters.

“It was great to get some experience under the belt. We loved it,” he added.

Willemse, 24, has been the Springboks starting playmaker during the Autumn Nations Series, which also included last weekend’s loss to Ireland, with Handre Pollard injured and Elton Jantjies dealing with personal issues back at home.

The game in southern France was just Willemse’s fourth Test start in the No. 10 jersey having mainly featured at full-back for his country.

“It’s good to get the experience. The coaches have been backing me which helps a lot,” Willemse said.

“This result, and last week’s result, don’t define this group.

“We’re heading in the right direction, we’re just not getting the right results at the moment,” he added.

Next Saturday, Willemse’s side head to Genoa to face Italy, who beat Australia hours before the Boks’ loss to France, ahead of ending their year with a game against England on November 26.

“It’s going to be a tough contest. For now we need to re-group, look at the footage on Monday, and recover well,” Stormers’ Willemse said.

“In World Rugby now, it’s really tight. Any team can beat any team.

“We’re going to prepare as best as we can for next week’s Test,” he added.