Mind Games: A breath of fresh air for SA rugby

2013-06-09 14:00

If ever a player took the route less travelled to get a Springbok rugby test cap, it is Willie le Roux, the man who made his green-and-gold debut in the No. 15 jersey yesterday.

It is difficult to know whether to describe him as a Stellenboscher, a Bolander, a Griqua or a Cheetah, but one thing is certain, Le Roux has been a breath of fresh air in South African rugby.

A late bloomer, Le Roux went to school at Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch but did not make enough of an impression to be drawn into the Western Province fold.

His first provincial side was Boland, his next stop was Kimberley and Griquas, and from there he went into Super?Rugby with the Cheetahs.

Le Roux, with his bold approach and sense of adventure, found a way to wriggle out of the straitjacket of conformity into which rugby seemed to have wrapped itself.

It was said that defences had become too secure and the fear of defeat too great for attacking players to prosper in the modern game.

But along came the tall chameleon of the backline to show that with the right attitude there was space to be found and tries to be scored.

At first he was thought to be too much of a risk taker – a player liable to blot the gold stars in his copybook with rash errors.

But encouraged by the Cheetahs’ coaches Naka Drotske and Hawies Fourie, he was allowed to keep pushing the boundaries until he found his niche as a roving marauder, playing in the number allocated to a wing but free to turn up anywhere in the backline to snipe at any weaknesses in the opposition he might have sniffed.

This approach was unheard of in the structure-driven approach of most other local teams, but Le Roux kept producing the big plays and winning Man of the Match awards.

There was an outcry when in April he was not included in national coach Heyneke Meyer’s first Springbok training squad of the season, with the coach seemingly sending out a signal that while Le Roux might be a fine attacker he was too unreliable on defence for the pattern he preferred.

But Le Roux kept turning in strong performances and undependable turned to unpredictable and eventually to unparalleled, and his reward was not only to be included in Meyer’s squad for the June quadrangular series but to win his first cap against Italy at Kings Park.

And so he sent out a message that the coach is perhaps not as conservative as perceived.

It is appropriate that Le Roux should have made his first start for the Springboks in the No. 15 jersey, following in the stud marks of great attacking players such as HO de Villiers, Gysie Pienaar, Johan Heunis and Andre Joubert.

Thanks to the prescient indulgence of the Cheetahs coaches and his mentor at Griquas, Pote Human, Le Roux was let off the leash and his inclusion in the national side might well signal that Meyer is introducing a more offensive mind-set.

Sometimes it takes a maverick and Le Roux has shown that by trusting his instincts there are ways of breaking seemingly impenetrable defences. For instance, in the way he has perfected the deft chip, chase and catch to wrong-foot and bamboozle shallow-lying defences.

It was the late, legendary coach of Natal, Izak van Heerden, who wrote that “fullback is the last line of attack” and it certainly is true that fullback is the one position which cannot be directly defended.

Whether Le Roux ends up in the No. 15 jersey or is moved to wing as a sort of man for all positions is not yet clear, but it is good to know that there is room in the Springbok setup for the imagination and ingenuity he brings.

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