Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, HENNIE LE ROUX discusses
the Patrick Lambie versus Handre Pollard debate, the need for a central contracting system in
SA and shares a prediction ahead of the Test at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: Playing the All Blacks at Ellis Park
must stir special memories for you personally.
Hennie le Roux: Yes, Ellis
Park naturally holds a very special place in my heart... Heading into the 1995
Rugby World Cup final, we were bestowed with the underdog tag and rightly so.
However, the qualities that we boasted in abundance, as a side, were character
and confidence in our own abilities. The week ahead of the final, most of our
work had already been done. It was more a question of fine-tuning ideas and
game strategies and getting the buy-in from everyone within the squad. Because
Jonah Lomu was such a threat, we adjusted our defence pattern, and it obviously
worked, because we managed to keep the All Blacks try-less on that magical day
Sport24 asked: The All Blacks believe they have the
edge over the Springboks in terms of fitness and conditioning, in spite of the
Boks’ strong finish against the Wallabies. What’s your take?
Hennie le Roux: Well, I
look forward to seeing how that plays out on Saturday. I was pleasantly
surprised with the way in which the Springboks managed to retain ball
possession and launch wave after wave of attack against the Wallabies. From
that perspective, the team did particularly well in the final quarter. The late
Kitch Christie was a strong proponent of fitness and conditioning and under
Heyneke Meyer’s guidance; the Springboks appear to have taken a step up in that
Sport24 asked: Meyer has opted for continuity in
retaining Handre Pollard at ten, even though Pat Lambie made a strong statement
in the second stanza against the Wallabies. What’s your view?
Hennie le Roux: Both
players possess immense talent and have the ability to play right at the top.
As such, I believe it comes down to a question of application, the game strategy
for the particular match and which player fits in where. While we are all aware
of Pollard’s capabilities with the boot, Lambie varies his game more, which was
evident when he came on for the last 22 minutes against the Wallabies. He
played a lot flatter than Pollard did and endeavoured to bring his loose
forwards into the game. That’s what created the momentum and go-forward ball
which enabled the Boks to retain ball possession. In my opinion, both players
are equipped to fulfil the flyhalf role with aplomb. However, Lambie most needs
to improve his place kicking, while Pollard can better his option-taking.
Sport24 asked: Graham Henry commented that it wouldn’t
be the worst thing for the All Blacks to lose a Test ahead of the 2015 Rugby
World Cup. Does one learn more from defeat than victory?
Hennie le Roux: Yes, I
would tend to believe so. The one downfall of rugby, and professional sport for
that matter, is that success brings with it a certain amount of complacency.
However, having said that, the All Blacks are probably the side least affected
by the above. Meanwhile, the Springboks and the French are arguably the two
sides most affected by it. I believe success or failure ultimately comes down
to attitude, approach and commitment. In terms of winning the World Cup, for
the Springboks, I believe it will come down to team selection and a case of the
players making the right on-field decisions on the day.
Sport24 asked: You formed a formidable centre pairing
with Japie Mulder. What were the greatest strengths of that partnership and in
what ways did your different styles complement each other?
Hennie le Roux: The
success of my partnership with Japie was owing to fact that we played together
for a long period of time, and thus understood how the other played and
approached the oval game. You come to learn the defensive running lines and the
communication that is required. To me, inside centre play is about
decision-making and a distribution-based game, which I enjoyed executing.
Whereas, as an outside centre like Japie, was more physical and possessed a
Sport24 asked: Your take on the midfield partnership
of Jan Serfontein and Jean de Villiers?
Hennie le Roux: They
represent a good combination in terms of youth and experience. First centre and
outside centre are very different types of positions, in my opinion. What makes
an outside centre strong is not necessarily what makes an inside centre good at
what he does. I disagree with the notion that the All Blacks could expose
weaknesses in the Springbok midfield owing to the fact that De Villiers and
Serfontein are both essentially inside centres. While De Villiers may wear No
12 on his back, he performs well at outside centre, while Serfontein delivers
at inside centre. Although positions have become more and more specialised in
the professional era, players today tend to possess a wider grouping of skills
from which to draw.
Sport24 asked: You were a founding member of SARPA
(the South African Rugby Players' Association). In terms of player rights, do
you feel that we are getting closer to the end goal?
Hennie le Roux: Every step
we took from founding the organisation to where it is now is important in terms
of imprinting the rights of players. Over time, much has been achieved and
professional players today enjoy a lot more protection than we did when we
began playing in the amateur era. However, the fact of the matter is that our
top players are playing too much rugby. The most obvious solution in a South
African context would be to follow New Zealand’s central contracting system. If
you are contracted centrally, you are committed to one particular coach.
Whereas, if you train to be the best you can be for a provincial and national
coach, you tend to find that rotation and rest periods become more challenging
to implement… I’m assuming that in the next couple of years,
centrally-contracted players will only end up playing Test matches. I believe
top professionals simply cannot sustain the high intake of games, currently
experienced, over an extended period of time.
Sport24 asked: Please offer a prediction ahead of what
has been billed as the Test of the year.
Hennie le Roux: Having
been very unfortunate to lose in Wellington, I’m backing the Boks to win by two
points. It will be a very close game underpinned by immense commitment,
physicality and pride. While both sides are very well balanced in terms of
overall capabilities, I believe that home ground advantage will offer Meyer’s
men the edge. The breakdown point will prove critical, as the All Blacks boast
the ability to convert turn-over possession into points. As such, the
Springboks will need to better protect their ball possession and limit the
number of attacking turn-overs they concede.
Peter de Villiers
Braam van Straaten
Carel du Plessis
Joe van Niekerk