Buenos Aires: Willie le Roux is edging ever closer to being the complete package at fullback.
The Springbok No 15 has always been a slick and dangerous attacking player, but in the wet weather at Loftus Versfeld last Saturday, the 25-year-old showed he is far more than just “a menace” with ball-in-hand.
Le Roux has bamboozled a number of teams since becoming a Bok regular last season, and in June was called “a menace” by Wales’ Warren Gatland. Le Roux, though, has added several new elements to his game under Heyneke Meyer, chief among them his defensive skills.
He has become a banker under the high ball – something Meyer demanded of him if he was to be the first-choice No 15 – and hardly put a foot wrong in Pretoria. Yesterday, Bok backline coach Ricardo Loubscher praised Le Roux’s attitude over the last few months.
“He’s worked very hard on the weaknesses in his game since coming into the squad,” said Loubscher. “He’s getting closer to being the full package.
“He’s shown a great attitude in training and he’s been able to apply that in his games. Obviously, as is the case with all players, there’s room for improvement still, but his aerial skills, his positional play and his kicking out of hand have improved a lot. He’s come along nicely.”
Now with 16 Tests behind him, Le Roux is one of Meyer’s first names on the team-sheet. He, too, has noticed his fullback’s steady rise. “He’s really grown as a player,” said Meyer after last weekend’s Test.
“We know what he can do with ball-in-hand, but he was excellent under the high ball in atrocious conditions (at Loftus). He’s worked hard on his game and is going from strength to strength.”
Meyer would have been pleased to see his fullback thrive in difficult, and different, conditions, but he is hoping conditions will be better for the Boks when they face up to Argentina again this Saturday in the Rugby Championship in Salta. The Boks will be desperate for a dry field as they look to bury the problems they’ve experienced in the past in South America.
“Willie has ticked a lot of boxes, but I could see he was frustrated that he couldn’t play (in Pretoria, like he always does),” said Meyer.
Loubscher added: “We can’t wait for this weekend ... we’re all excited to go to Salta, where conditions will hopefully be better.”
The Boks trained here for the first time yesterday after only arriving in Buenos Aires late on Monday afternoon. Team doctor Craig Roberts said Meyer would have a fully fit squad to pick from for this weekend’s match.
Juan Smith, who’s recovered from a slight hamstring strain, is set to be recalled to the Bok side today at No 7 flank in what is likely to be one of two changes to the team that played last weekend. Eben Etzebeth could also make a return at lock, in place of Bakkies Botha.
Argentina, meanwhile, came through the Pretoria Test unscathed and are likely to field the same team, bar one, against the Boks on Saturday.
Experienced midfielder Juan Martin Hernandez, who withdrew from the Loftus Test on the morning of the match because of injury, is again fit and set to take his place alongside Marcelo Bosch. - Cape Times