The Ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV: Le Roux's class shines through
AS part of The Glory of '95 series, three of IOL Sport's rugby writers decided to pick their ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV. Today we look at inside centre.
Candidates: Hennie le Roux (1995), Frans Steyn (2007), Damian de Allende (2019)JACQUES VAN DER WESTHUIZEN
Hennie le Roux was never supposed to wear the No 12 on his back in 1995, but with Joel Stransky in the form that he was Le Roux shifted to inside centre where he did a brilliant job in a position he wasn’t all that familiar with. His quick hands, burst of speed and the fact he kicked well made him the almost perfect 12 at the time - and what a job he did.
Twelve years later a fresh-faced Frans Steyn, just 20 and with eight caps to his name when the tournament kicked off, was handed the No 12 when Jean de Villiers got injured. And what an impact he made; he carried the ball strongly, kicked some almighty crucial penalties, and tackled hard. And, having won the World Cup again last year, Steyn is now a two-time winner.
For me though, Damian de Allende shades the selection as the best Bok inside centre of the World Cup finals.
The 28-year-old had a dream tournament last year, and emerged afterwards as one of the big heroes of the Bok team. Criticised and out of form in the months leading up to the tournament, De Allende shone brightly in Japan and didn’t put a foot wrong. He was immense in every department and can now rightly be called one of the best No 12s in the game.
His second-half try of the semi-final kick-fest against Wales when he fended off two tacklers to score from 20 metres out was massive - and tournament-defining.
Backed from day one when Rassie Erasmus came into the Bok coaching picture, De Allende has blossomed into the all-round No 12 everyone hoped and thought he’d become when he first burst onto the scene seven years ago.
Jacques’ choice: Damian de Allende
This selection was a seriously hard one. Frans Steyn is a two-time champion (2007 and 2019), and the 20-year-old wunderkind that knocked over a 50-metre penalty in the final against England in Paris.
Pieter Muller (1999) was a tough-as-nails inside centre who never let ball-carriers get past him, and wasn’t shy to take contact either.
The giant Damian de Allende was the new kid on the block in 2015, and became a mature midfielder that scored a critical try out of nothing in the 2019 semi-final against Wales, and has a gold medal from 2019.
But there is just something about Hennie le Roux from the Class of 95 that sets him apart from the rest – and no, it’s not the punch he threw at Canada fullback Scott Stewart during the ‘Battle of Boet Erasmus’!
He was always someone who kept the game going, either through a long pass out wide, a little chip or grubber, or a pop to a teammate.
Le Roux was actually a flyhalf, and started two matches at No 10 during the 1995 tournament. But when coach Kitch Christie brought in Joel Stransky for the semi-final and final, Le Roux excelled as an inside centre.
Despite his relative lack of size at 1.78m and 78kg, he seldom shirked his defensive responsibilities, and often got stuck into the opposition on defence. Le Roux put his body on the line, and that was highlighted in the mud bath against France, when he was on the ground to stop Abdelatif Benazzi from scoring the decisive try.
Le Roux was a willing ball-carrier as well, and able to vary his play between taking the ball up and finding space for the outside backs. He helped push Chester Williams over the line for one of his four tries against Western Samoa in the quarter-final.
He combined with Japie Mulder to keep Walter Little and Frank Bunce in check in the final, while also ensuring that the New Zealand defence was busy.
Le Roux went in to join that final scrum, where Joost van der Westhuizen made the best knock-on in history to end the game.
Ashfak's choice: Hennie le Roux
The Springboks have had a varied representation at inside centre over the course of the World Cups, and identifying a complete standout is complex.
Back in 1995, Hennie le Roux formed an outstanding partnership with his Transvaal teammate Japie Mulder, and having played flyhalf for much of his career he also combined well with Joel Stransky.
In 1999, the robust Pieter Muller was a very different inside centre. Less of a playmaker than Le Roux, he was a very direct player but very effective in what he offered to the team. His successor at the next World Cup, De Wet Barry, was cut from similar cloth. Barry was equally powerful on the charge and also a fearsome tackler.
Jean de Villiers was a wonderful Springbok at No 12 for a number of years but had very bad luck at World Cups. He missed the 2003 World Cup because of injury; in 2007 he was seriously injured early in the tournament opening the door for Francois Steyn; in 2011 the Boks crashed out of the World Cup early; and then in 2015 De Villiers suffered another tournament-ending injury.
De Villiers was an exceptional player but World Cups just didn’t happen for him!
Damian de Allende took over from De Villiers when he was injured in the England World Cup and forged a good combination with Jesse Kriel; and in 2019 De Allende had an excellent World Cup in Japan, in the same position.
Who has been the best Bok inside centre at the World Cups? For me it comes down to De Allende in 2019 versus Le Roux in ’95 ...
Mike's choice: Hennie le Roux.
Hennie le Roux's all-round ability wins it by two votes to one.
Ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV (so far): 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jaque Fourie, Hennie le Roux ...