JOHANNESBURG – Bernard le Roux could hardly contain his excitement when he spoke about the prospect of playing against the Springboks.
The 28-year-old French flank admitted facing the Boks would be like a dream come true. “I’ve played nearly 30 Tests but I’ve yet to face the Boks. I’m so looking forward to it, what a challenge. It’s just really special,” he said.
The South Africa-born Le Roux is unlikely to make the starting team for this weekend’s first Test at Loftus Versfeld, but he is almost sure to be on the bench. He said the Boks, despite them winning only four times in 12 matches last year and the squad being full of young stars, would pose a huge test for his side.
“They certainly don’t deserve to be ranked seven in the world. They’re a great side ... a Springbok team will always be one of the best teams in the world. Yes, they didn’t have a good 2016 season, but they have quality individuals in key positions and they’re building towards something that will be great.”
He added the addition of Brendan Venter to the coaching team would be a big boost to the Boks.
“I think they’ve put 2016 behind them. And with Brendan Venter now involved, there will be a lot of good structure in the side, especially when it comes to defence. That’s a big positive for the Boks.”
Le Roux’s story of how he ended up playing for France is an interesting one, and there will be some out there who’ll feel he’s one that got away from South Africa.
After turning out for Boland in Vodacom Cup rugby in 2009 he was asked by former World Cup winning coach Jake White to join the Joburg-based Lions for the 2010 Super Rugby season. At that stage, White’s company, Winning Ways, was doing consultancy work for the Lions, including the contracting of players.
The night before Le Roux was to sign on with the Lions he was offered the chance to play for two months for Racing Metro in Paris, as cover for an injured player. Le Roux apparently fell in love with Paris, the French culture and its people, and stayed for a little longer.
It’s now been eight years and he’s played well over 100 matches for Racing 92, as it is now known.
In 2013 he was called up to the French squad for the first time, for their tour of New Zealand and made his debut on June 15 in Christchurch.
“It’s always great coming back to South Africa though, it’s a beautiful country. I come back once a year to visit my mom, see my friends and to go hunting,” he chuckled.
He grew up on a farm in Moorreesburg, 100km north of Cape Town.
“I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and we don’t get much of that in France. But in the summers, when the days are long, we at least get to go to the club owner’s farm and do some fishing.”
Le Roux said France would play a balanced game during the series and wouldn’t simply throw the ball around, as some are expecting them to do.
“We’re trying to create our own style of play, a mixture of French flair and a bit of structured rugby,” he said. “Of course, everything depends on what the score is, at what stage of the game we’re at ... that will determine whether you’re going to see running rugby or not.
“It also depends on where we are in the series and what’s at stake ... and what the Boks are doing. We have the license though to have a go when we see something is on.
“But in the Six Nations (earlier this year) we created a lot of opportunities and we made a lot of line breaks, but didn’t finish off. We’d like to correct that and obviously score more tries.”
Despite all the woes of the Boks over the last year, Le Roux said the French are expecting a massive series. “I can’t see why the Boks won’t be a better side (than in 2016).
“They will be full of confidence, they always are, and playing in one’s home country makes a big difference.”