Rugby Championship

Boks: Why Willie’s a ‘flight risk’

2018-09-23 11:48
Willie le Roux (Gallo Images)
Willie le Roux (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - He’s got the green light to stay involved for the Springboks over the next fortnight … but does Willie le Roux duly start both remaining Tests in the Rugby Championship?

The immediate instinct of many observers would be “of course”, especially considering his current form which by all accounts included a sprightly contribution to Wasps’ 31-13 away triumph over Sale on Saturday.

But the very fact that the gifted attacking factor played in the English Premiership game might well be cause in itself for Bok coach Rassie Erasmus to consider giving him a more limited presence in Saturday’s Test against Australia in Port Elizabeth - as a particularly potent substitute.

Such a move would enhance the likelihood of Le Roux being both mentally and physically fresher for the humungous challenge a week further ahead of the All Blacks, smarting from their shock Wellington loss to the Boks, at Loftus.

Wasps director of rugby Dai Young has confirmed that the club will not present any obstacles to Le Roux returning to the Bok fold for the last leg of the Championship, yet the amount of long-haul flying the 29-year-old has had to do of late will, almost certainly, have to come into consideration as Erasmus shapes his plans for the Aussies and New Zealanders.

Le Roux played in both Brisbane and then at the “Cake Tin” for his country, before heading back to Wasps for a once-off appearance in the north-west of England on Saturday.

The time difference between New Zealand and the UK is almost half a day (11 hours) and the flying time required roughly double that.

Now, despite the more agreeable time difference of an hour, Le Roux heads back to South Africa from London but with another near-12 hours cooped up in an aircraft.

So would it be asking a bit too much for the back-three specialist to run out at the start of both Test matches?

That is the call Erasmus will have to make.

But one possible, appealing solution to the dilemma presented itself on a chilly night of Currie Cup rugby at Newlands on Saturday, where vibrant Western Province - at least until they stepped off the gas for much of the second half - thumped Griquas 38-12 to retain their unbeaten record.

Wunderkind Damian Willemse, already a member of the current Bok squad albeit largely peripheral at present, had a superb outing at No 15 for the hosts, including deft tee-up work in at least half of WP’s six tries.

It is known that, when Erasmus finally bloods Willemse (two caps off the bench so far) as a starter, he rather fancies giving him that opportunity in the last line of defence.

Those thoughts ought to have only blossomed in the head coach’s mind when he saw the 20-year-old’s inventive, educated display in the berth on Saturday, even given the limitations of the opponents.

Willemse loomed large and naturally from the back in the first two, easy-on-the-eye tries from John Dobson’s charges, and in the second half produced a lovely, trademark shimmy and delayed offload to set up seasoned wing JJ Engelbrecht in fairly tight space for Province’s closing score.

Of the various fullbacks on view in the latest round of the Currie Cup, the exciting utility footballer looked easily the most accomplished, although Curwin Bosch was also constructive, in sometimes torrential rain, in the Sharks’ comfortable 37-21 home victory over the Lions.

He served some reminders of the length he can get on his touch-finders and had dangerous moments on the front foot, although his defence remains too fitful; a work in progress.

Nippy French-based Cheslin Kolbe stays a candidate for the Bok No 15 jersey as well, but it is possible Willemse stole a march on him over the weekend -- if Erasmus is, indeed, partial to the idea of giving Le Roux shorter, second-half duty in PE for the Boks and exposing someone else to the starting responsibilities at the back.

A more “relaxed” 49th appearance in green and gold for Le Roux from the reserves against the Wallabies, where he could cover a few positions, could put him in best possible fettle for his emotional 50th cap against the toughest foes of them all a week later at Loftus.

Don’t rule out, of course, that he is simply asked to bite the bullet despite his travel exertions and play a fulsome Bok role in both clashes.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


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