Cape Town – The Springboks scored two tries in their 20-18
upset at the hands of Italy last weekend … you might be entitled to call that a
crime in itself.
Yet it is also a far from irrelevant fact that Willie le
Roux had a critical hand in the creation of each of them in the first half in
Florence, and he so nearly put Bryan Habana in for another with a
cleverly-judged long, floated pass in the fateful second.
In many respects, the former Sharks fullback – bound for
English Premiership outfit Wasps in January – seemed back to his best as an
increasingly rare provider of unpredictable genius in the Bok backline.
Le Roux has seldom been perfect, and he did commit certain
gremlins in the national team’s first ever reverse to the Italians.
But he was also considerably better than he had been in the
more thumping 37-21 loss to England at Twickenham a week earlier and, for the
record, earned “premier” Bok individual rating on another grim day for the
collective cause on the Sport24 performance card against Italy with a 6/10
Now, though, he is a goner … out of the match-day 23
entirely for the last shot at some kind of tour redemption against Wales in
Cardiff on Saturday (19:30 SA time).
Head coach Allister Coetzee was urged by several prominent
critics to shake the bag in favour of rookie-geared, often youthful energy for
this season-ender to the annus horribilis, and in many respects he cannot be
blamed for obliging in his team pick on Thursday.
There are as many as seven alterations to the starting XV,
and it will be educative and potentially exciting to see, particularly, just
how new caps Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Jamba Ulengo and Uzair Cassiem come
through on such a go-for-broke occasion.
But the Boks now field an unusually callow backline,
something that looks especially conspicuous given that Bryan Habana, with his
massive 124 caps, is among the casualties.
On that score, it makes even less sense for the 27-year-old Le
Roux (41 caps), who would have helped keep a semblance of experience to the
back three, to have been deemed surplus to requirements against the Welsh.
Yes, it is admirable that -- as trumpeted in the official
press release accompanying the side -- 14 of the starters will be players based
with domestic Super Rugby franchises next year.
But that still doesn’t mean that Le Roux’s omission looks
that bit more justifiable, given that the soon UK-based customer is replaced by
another “foreign” Bok in versatile Johan Goosen of Racing Metro.
Nor is it as though Goosen is a simply irresistible pick at
No 15; his favourite responsibility is still flyhalf and he wasn’t wonderfully
comfortable in the last line of defence in four starts there during the Rugby
Championship – Le Roux is at least a more specialist fullback who was just
showing signs of a return to revered, slippery standards of old in Florence.
When you apply the guillotine to one of the ever-dwindling
handful of “X-factor” players in the Bok mix, after he has demonstrated those
attributes in sublime little bursts the previous Saturday, what sort of message
are you sending in a climate where the Boks are being lambasted for falling
behind other top-tier nations for
invention and generally progressive rugby?
I guess it is a question best directed to Coetzee …
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