Rob Houwing

Keep faith in Willie, Boks!

2013-06-24 07:22
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Cape Town - Stick with Willie le Roux ... and he might make you famous.

That’s my plea to Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer after South Africa’s - expected, it must be remembered - unbeaten supremacy in the four-nation June Test window tournament.

The Boks saved their best for last on Saturday, producing urgency, guts and vibrancy in almost equal measures as they comfortably saw off the stern, sometimes unpalatably cynical challenge of Samoa 56-23 at Loftus.

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Meyer’s charges could be said to have ticked most boxes in two of the clashes - against Italy and the Pacific Islanders - while hiccupping a little en route to a laboured triumph over Scotland in the middle game.

His team is also now on a six-match winning streak (taking the unbeaten end-of-year tour into account) since the emphatic 32-16 home reverse to the All Blacks at the end of the 2012 Castle Rugby Championship on October 6, after the Boks had promisingly held a half-time lead at FNB Stadium.

What seems pleasingly clear is that a terrific squad spirit, attitude and suitable depth in most positions is taking shape, whilst

Meyer has largely been selecting his teams deftly, mixing the need for some experimentation with strong elements of consistency and stability as well - he may also be just about ready to acknowledge that one or two unashamed old favourites of his are on severely borrowed time, with Pierre Spies’s unconvincing No 8 tenure a case in point.

Best of all, the Boks are also revelling in a new pattern of adventure and ball-in-hand expression, after some justifiable accusations in the coach’s maiden year in charge that safety-first was an obsessive ethic.

Successful former coach Nick Mallett, who never shies away from harsh pronouncements when he feels it necessary in his current capacity as a television critic, is just as firm when handing out praise.

So there would have been plenty of agreeing nods when he described the eight-tries-to-two showing against Samoa as “a real fulfilment of the coaching staff’s planning and hard work”.

South Africa have scored a healthy 16 tries in the trio of June Tests, even as certain aspects of their game remain in the “work in progress” category.

But they can approach the Rugby Championship from mid-August in good mental fettle, for the attempt to lower the colours of defending champions and still world No 1-ranked New Zealand (and also to eclipse 2012 tourney runners-up Australia this time).

I would argue that this new mood of positivity - aided by an increasingly characterful captain in Jean de Villiers - is due in no small measure to the infusion of much-needed X-factor from the back of the park, in the shape of fullback Willie le Roux.

The inclusion of the electric Cheetahs player has brought out best qualities in just about the entire back division, and it would seem such a deflating, backward step if he is sidelined now, just because the task gets so obviously tougher and certain needs may change against the premier southern hemisphere Bok rivals.

Meyer will be a brave man, indeed, if he does decide to “fall back” on someone like the safe but blandly predictable Bulls No 15 Zane Kirchner in the last line of defence, because public derision is likely to be widespread - possibly even from some quarters in Pretoria!

We have seen in the last three weeks that while Le Roux can be a little scatter-brained and error-prone at times (believe it or not, Kirchner can fumble some balls too), he has a Midas Touch in keeping opponents nervously guessing as to what his intentions are when he fancies something might be “on”.

The way he draws defenders and creates space for fast-moving runners around him is something that can’t always be coached; it just comes naturally and joyously to some.

My recommendation is most certainly that Le Roux stay at his post at least for the start of the next challenge ... and particularly because the Boks first tackle, back to back, the likely weakest of the quartet of sides in the Championship, Argentina.

There just seems no reason to shaft Le Roux against Los Pumas; if anything it simply gives him a further opportunity to bed down for the Boks and ease his way into the gradually sterner tests of his abilities, particularly on defence.

That isn’t to say that Meyer, who against the Samoans proved his ability to adopt a horses-for-courses selection approach, won’t be understandably tempted to field a more conservative choice at fullback should, for instance, the away Test against the All Blacks at ever-daunting Eden Park on September 14 look like taking place in notably grim conditions.

But for the moment, there’s a bit of a “party” on ... don’t stop the music, eh?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  heyneke meyer  |  rugby

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