Willie Le Roux was superb against England in the Springboks first test. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix
When Springbok fullback Willie Le Roux burst onto the international scene five years ago, South Africans could not get enough of him.

Then Le Roux made the game of rugby look and feel easy with his Spiderman suppleness, deceptive speed with ball in hand and the trickery he used to dance with his feet in the sidestep.

But that excitement and edge of your seat stuff which works so well in Super Rugby proved to be a limitation for Le Roux in international rugby and his lack of aerial skills and defence extinguished the flair a player of his nature brought to the game.

However, it was falling out of favour with previous Bok coach Allister Coetzee and his move to England to play for Premiership side Wasps that has not only seen the rebirth of Willie Le Roux but it has made him a better player.

Such has been the turnaround in his game that in the season that he has spent at Wasps, the former Boland and Cheetahs star has become a fan favourite and also an integral member of the Coventry based team having gone through the metamorphosis from being rugby’s version of a jester to being a member of royalty amongst fullbacks in the premiership.

“It made me a better player all over. It is not just about attacking, I think it is about kicking, catching the high ball, it’s your defence and your all over game that must be better. So it improved me a lot being over there,” said Le Roux ahead of yesterday’s first Test against England at Ellis Park.

In fact, Le Roux’s absence from the Springbok fray for the whole of 2017 was a blessing in disguise as his time in the northern hemisphere was actually preparing him for his second coming in the Green and Gold.

While it was his performances in Super Rugby that ran down the door to his international career, it has been playing in similar conditions and simulations of Test rugby in Europe that will probably be the key to Le Roux’s longevity in the national side and staying ahead of the likes of Warrick Gelant who is eager to dethrone him as the king of South African fullbacks.

“I feel like them, I feel good and very much excited. It feels like my first game again, I’m very excited to wear this jersey again,” Le Roux said.

“Yeah definitely (playing in England is closer to Test rugby). It’s not as fast as Super Rugby back there. I think the kicking game, the defence, you must be ready for everything. I think in Super Rugby the guys just throw it around and play, and it looks like nice rugby. But over that side it is more controlled, set-piece, kicking, aerial battle and your defence is more organised. Every team has got a good structure so definitely.”

The 28-year-old Le Roux might feel that he still has a lot more to learn before mastering his craft but as one of the senior players in the Springbok squad, he now has to impart some of his knowledge to the inexperienced youngsters, especially wings Sbu Nkosi and Aphiwe Dyantyi.

Even though Le Roux admittedly can’t keep up with the explosive speed of Nkosi and Dyantyi, it is in the learnings of the past few years and different places he's played in that he could provide pivotal lessons to the making of the careers of Nkosi and Dyantyi.

“No, not teaching. I think it is good guys on either side of me, I just give my input when I see something and help them where I can. I think they are very excited and for me it feels like my first game again. Last year this time I was sitting in the stands watching the game and this year I’m playing; it’s funny how life works out.

“No, no, no!!!! Those fast guys outside of me I'll just give the ball to them early on and they’ll do the work and hopefully I will get it inside,” joked Le Roux.

Just like new Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, Le Roux is a man of few words and prefers to do his talking on the field with ball in hand.

Le Roux is elated about Kolisi’s appointment as the first black Springbok captain, having made their international debuts a week apart and now sharing their coming of age in the national team.

“I started with Siya in 2013. I played the week before in my first Test and he came on the week after against Scotland off the bench. So we go back together a long time and I played against him but we are good mates. I think Siya is not a big talker; he leads from the front in how he plays. We are all behind him and support him all the way.

“It’s a young squad and we are all excited. I think we want to show our country what they mean for us and we are playing for our pride and that jersey.”


Sunday Independent

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