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,
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
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
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