Boks: Willie a rare ‘debutant’

2015-09-14 13:00
Willie le Roux (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – If he starts or at least features in the opening Springbok game of the World Cup against Japan at Brighton on Saturday, as seems likely, Willie le Roux will be a fairly unorthodox first-timer at RWC level.

Many 26-year-olds already sporting a healthy tally of 28 caps for their country and nomination between World Cups for IRB Player of the Year (2014) would not be gracing the planet’s premier tournament for the first time.

But the fact that the box-of-tricks fullback should do so at the Community Stadium this weekend will simultaneously serve as a reminder of just how far he has come since the 2011 tournament when he was a very long way off participation in it – even Super Rugby was wholly unexplored territory to him at the time.

In fact, Le Roux’s crowning achievement that year was the greatly more humble honour of helping Boland Cavaliers win the Currie Cup First Division (second tier) title, courtesy of a 43-12 victory over EP Kings in the final before almost 5,000 people in the Cape winelands town of Wellington.

There was just one already-capped Bok in the home-team line-up that day, veteran scrumhalf and captain Bolla Conradie, although No 15 Le Roux and then-outside centre Cornal Hendricks would go on to national honours in the years ahead.

Hendricks, who has since transformed into a prolific-scoring wing, is considered unlucky by some to have missed the RWC 2015 cut.

But Le Roux is very much in the mix – he has seldom been sidelined for the Boks since his debut against Italy in Durban in June 2013 -- and probably earmarked as one of the likelier game-breakers for South Africa over the next few critical weeks.

Although the Springboks may end up tackling as many southern hemisphere foes as they do northern ones at the World Cup (especially if they progress to predicted quarters and semis clashes with Australia and New Zealand respectively), the back-three specialist is handily still a bit more of a “mystery” element in climes above the equator.

His first-class rugby has also been confined to the generally warmer parts of the world, even if he will soon turn out for a northern-based franchise for the first time, in the shape of the Japanese Top League Canon Eagles.

Only seven of his Test appearances, exactly a quarter, have come in the European landscape so if the Boks do end up having some stern scraps along the way with Six Nations powers (Scotland are already guaranteed, in pool play at Newcastle) Le Roux may be just that extra little bit capable of bamboozling them with his famous unorthodoxy.

Of course he is capable of doing that against any comers at RWC 2015: in a dour, tight game awaiting a splash of magic to decide it, an outrageous dink or grubber from Le Roux, or one of his effortless, ghost-like intrusions into the line, a la Andre Joubert or Gysie Pienaar of yesteryear, could make a vital difference.

There is still the chance that Le Roux, who can induce some nervousness in a defensive capacity, will be a horses-for-courses type of pick at the event, which may see widely varying weather conditions in England’s hard-to-gauge autumn.

Just for example, forecasts for the next few days suggest the Boks will train for the Japan minnows on the UK’s south coast in near gale-force winds and in sometimes lashing rain – conditions which in many ways seem suited to a more conservative option like Zane Kirchner or even use of the versatile footballing qualities of Pat Lambie if he is not going to be the first-choice flyhalf.

But by Saturday, altogether drier and more benign weather is tipped, suggesting that the firm, soccer-pitch surface of the match venue will be tailor-made for someone like Le Roux to power the push for a healthy win with his unique brand of creativity from the rear of the Boks’ attacking arsenal. 

It still seems a little strange that Willem Jacobus le Roux will be a maiden RWC entrant, come Saturday.

But based on his near-meteoric development over the last three or four years, he will be a seriously deserving one.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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