With 100 Tests in sight, Willie le Roux is not looking too far ahead

Published Jul 7, 2024


REACHING 100 caps for the Springboks is not the immediate thought on Willie le Roux’s mind, but it is a reality that is creeping ever closer for the double World Cup winner.

Yesterday against Ireland, he played Test number 94, and if he can keep up his form and fitness, match number 100 will be well within his reach this season, with the Boks set to play more than 10 Tests in 2024.

It’s been a rewarding journey in the national team for the Bolander, but there were times when he had to graft to get that breakthrough and to stay in the national side.

Often branded as a cavalier type of rugby player, Le Roux has brought another dynamic to the Springbok backline since his debut in 2013, and there has been more evidence of him still producing match-winning performances than ones that could sound his final moments in the Bok set-up.

The 34-year-old Le Roux said he would be taking things game-by-game because if he looked too far ahead, things might turn out otherwise. But, he added, he is definitely not close to thinking about retiring from the game yet.

“I won’t tell you that I’ll be done next year or the year after. I’m going to take it as it is, but I guarantee you it won’t be soon,” Le Roux said.

“So I’ll play as long as I can or until they tell me you must stop playing. Because I still feel good and well (enough) to go on. If a guy like Willem (Alberts) and those guys can get to 39 or 40 and play, someone like Ruan (Pienaar) too, it’s a motivation.

“And obviously, if you can get to the 100 Tests, it is close now, so now you’re counting it and stuff like that. But, I don’t want to do that because you can get injured any time and there are a lot of other things that can happen.

“If I don’t play well, I won’t play next week. I might never get there even though it’s just six games away. I’m just focusing on what I can do for the team and what I can contribute. Hopefully, we will get there.”

According to Le Roux, it’s the younger players around him that keep him on his toes, not just in the Boks side but also at the Bulls.

Although he only returned to South Africa this season after stints in England and Japan, Le Roux said he was still nervous in his first season at the Bulls, where he was one of their star players.

“I was a bit nervous returning to South Africa and playing at the Bulls. But I learnt a lot from the guys around me, especially the younger ones and as the season went on, I was enjoying myself.”

He helped them to the finals of the United Rugby Championship (URC) with his calm and skilful performances throughout the season and in the semi-final against Leinster. A head knock ruled him out of the final, which the Bulls lost to Glasgow Warriors in Pretoria.

“It was a very sad week after that (Leinster) game because you worked hard the whole season to get to that point. Then to get a home final and then you can’t play in it. Then you have to watch in the stands and it’s very tough for me to watch because you can't do anything about it.

“But yeah, it’s part of life and we grow and we learn (from it).”

Now, under Bok coach Rassie Erasmus, the same coach who turned him away from the Stormers and Western Province over a decade ago, he is thriving in the latter stages of his career with a special milestone looming.

“I still remember those days when I went to Province and I just wanted a contract there and Rassie said no. He was still the coach then. He said no, he won’t sign me. He had a lot of things to say and thought I wasn’t good at the time. Obviously, you respect that and you move on and you get other opportunities.

“When I had my 50th game he said this guy came to the Stormers and he just wanted to play there for the Stormers and I never gave him the chance.

“It’s tough to hear that you won’t make it or they won’t pick you and then, yeah, you just have to keep on going and then eventually it will work out.”

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