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The challengers for Willie le Roux’s Springbok throne

There are a number of players vying Springbok fullback Willie Le Roux’s place at 15. Picture: Dave Hunt/EPA

There are a number of players vying Springbok fullback Willie Le Roux’s place at 15. Picture: Dave Hunt/EPA

Published May 21, 2022

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Johannesburg - Dillyn Leyds and Warrick Gelant are pushing hard to be recalled to the Springbok squad.

Willie le Roux is one of the most maligned players in the Springbok set-up.

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When he first entered the international arena, fans were excited by his unpredictability and skills that he brought to the side under Heyneke Meyer, which he had showcased for years at Boland, Griquas and the Cheetahs.

In fact, he was even nominated for the then-IRB Player of the Year award in 2014, but in recent seasons he has been criticised for kicking the ball away at inopportune times and for various handling errors in particular.

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But there is no doubt that Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber back him to the hilt – and that was proven again ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, when he actually told the coaches that he would understand if they wanted to drop him.

Le Roux was picked for the England decider, though, and had one of his better games in the 32-12 triumph.

But now the pressure is on the 32-year-old once more to retain his No 15 jersey, as a host of contenders are pushing hard to take his place.

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Le Roux is in Japan playing for Toyota Verblitz, and has 72 Bok caps to his name.

He is sure to be included in the squad for the three-Test series against Wales in July, but should he continue to start?

Nienaber said in February that he was open to picking new players. “From a player point of view, looking at the URC and Currie Cup, there is a blank canvas, from our perspective. We are looking for players that will knock the door down,” he said.

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“Even players who are playing in Japan and abroad, and our own local players in the URC, they know they have to perform well to get into the squad.”

Stormers star Warrick Gelant has set the URC alight with his creativity on attack. Gelant has dovetailed superbly with Manie Libbok and Damian Willemse and he has often opened up defences with supreme passing skills.

He is strong under the high ball, and has developed his kicking game to be able to probe for 50-22 opportunities and chips across the pitch to the wings as well.

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Aphelele Fassi has improved as the season has worn on, and has hit his stride – literally and figuratively.

Those long-legged incursions from the back see him gliding past tacklers, and he is also versatile in being able to fill in at wing.

Willemse has played most of his rugby at inside centre during the URC, but has excelled at No 15 as well, as he is a willing strike-runner and outstanding defender.

That is where the Bok management sees his immediate future, with Damian de Allende entrenched at No 12 and Frans Steyn the midfield back-up.

Talking about Steyn, the Cheetahs veteran proved in 2021 that he can do a job at fullback when required, and even though he turned 35 earlier this month, the fact that his team only participate in the Currie Cup will mean that he is still fresh for the international season.

The almost forgotten Dillyn Leyds could be an intriguing option as well. The former Stormers star has been in top form for La Rochelle over the last few years, and the French club are again in the Champions Cup final for a second season in a row.

They face Leinster in the title decider in Marseille on May 28, and Leyds will look to impress Nienaber once more ahead of the Welsh series. The 29-year-old’s familiarity with French conditions ahead of the 2023 World Cup in that country could count in his favour as well.

Leyds earned his 10th Test cap in 2019, but missed out on the World Cup squad.

He could also be a solid option at right wing, with Cheslin Kolbe and Sbu Nkosi injured at the moment.

But have any of these contenders done enough to unseat Le Roux? Gelant probably has, but does he suit the Bok game plan? Fassi probably needs more experience, and Willemse and Steyn are more utility backs than specialists.

Leyds could make a serious case for inclusion in the Champions Cup final too …

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