Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, HENNIE LE ROUX discusses the Patrick Lambie versus Handre Pollard debate, the need for a central contracting system in SA and shares a prediction ahead of the Test at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Sport24 asked: Playing the All Blacks at Ellis Park must stir special memories for you personally.
Hennie le Roux: Yes, Ellis Park naturally holds a very special place in my heart... Heading into the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, we were bestowed with the underdog tag and rightly so. However, the qualities that we boasted in abundance, as a side, were character and confidence in our own abilities. The week ahead of the final, most of our work had already been done. It was more a question of fine-tuning ideas and game strategies and getting the buy-in from everyone within the squad. Because Jonah Lomu was such a threat, we adjusted our defence pattern, and it obviously worked, because we managed to keep the All Blacks try-less on that magical day in June.
Sport24 asked: The All Blacks believe they have the edge over the Springboks in terms of fitness and conditioning, in spite of the Boks’ strong finish against the Wallabies. What’s your take?
Hennie le Roux: Well, I look forward to seeing how that plays out on Saturday. I was pleasantly surprised with the way in which the Springboks managed to retain ball possession and launch wave after wave of attack against the Wallabies. From that perspective, the team did particularly well in the final quarter. The late Kitch Christie was a strong proponent of fitness and conditioning and under Heyneke Meyer’s guidance; the Springboks appear to have taken a step up in that regard.
Sport24 asked: Meyer has opted for continuity in retaining Handre Pollard at ten, even though Pat Lambie made a strong statement in the second stanza against the Wallabies. What’s your view?
Hennie le Roux: Both players possess immense talent and have the ability to play right at the top. As such, I believe it comes down to a question of application, the game strategy for the particular match and which player fits in where. While we are all aware of Pollard’s capabilities with the boot, Lambie varies his game more, which was evident when he came on for the last 22 minutes against the Wallabies. He played a lot flatter than Pollard did and endeavoured to bring his loose forwards into the game. That’s what created the momentum and go-forward ball which enabled the Boks to retain ball possession. In my opinion, both players are equipped to fulfil the flyhalf role with aplomb. However, Lambie most needs to improve his place kicking, while Pollard can better his option-taking.
Sport24 asked: Graham Henry commented that it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the All Blacks to lose a Test ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Does one learn more from defeat than victory?
Hennie le Roux: Yes, I would tend to believe so. The one downfall of rugby, and professional sport for that matter, is that success brings with it a certain amount of complacency. However, having said that, the All Blacks are probably the side least affected by the above. Meanwhile, the Springboks and the French are arguably the two sides most affected by it. I believe success or failure ultimately comes down to attitude, approach and commitment. In terms of winning the World Cup, for the Springboks, I believe it will come down to team selection and a case of the players making the right on-field decisions on the day.
Sport24 asked: You formed a formidable centre pairing with Japie Mulder. What were the greatest strengths of that partnership and in what ways did your different styles complement each other?
Hennie le Roux: The success of my partnership with Japie was owing to fact that we played together for a long period of time, and thus understood how the other played and approached the oval game. You come to learn the defensive running lines and the communication that is required. To me, inside centre play is about decision-making and a distribution-based game, which I enjoyed executing. Whereas, as an outside centre like Japie, was more physical and possessed a top-end speed.
Sport24 asked: Your take on the midfield partnership of Jan Serfontein and Jean de Villiers?
Hennie le Roux: They represent a good combination in terms of youth and experience. First centre and outside centre are very different types of positions, in my opinion. What makes an outside centre strong is not necessarily what makes an inside centre good at what he does. I disagree with the notion that the All Blacks could expose weaknesses in the Springbok midfield owing to the fact that De Villiers and Serfontein are both essentially inside centres. While De Villiers may wear No 12 on his back, he performs well at outside centre, while Serfontein delivers at inside centre. Although positions have become more and more specialised in the professional era, players today tend to possess a wider grouping of skills from which to draw.
Sport24 asked: You were a founding member of SARPA (the South African Rugby Players' Association). In terms of player rights, do you feel that we are getting closer to the end goal?
Hennie le Roux: Every step we took from founding the organisation to where it is now is important in terms of imprinting the rights of players. Over time, much has been achieved and professional players today enjoy a lot more protection than we did when we began playing in the amateur era. However, the fact of the matter is that our top players are playing too much rugby. The most obvious solution in a South African context would be to follow New Zealand’s central contracting system. If you are contracted centrally, you are committed to one particular coach. Whereas, if you train to be the best you can be for a provincial and national coach, you tend to find that rotation and rest periods become more challenging to implement… I’m assuming that in the next couple of years, centrally-contracted players will only end up playing Test matches. I believe top professionals simply cannot sustain the high intake of games, currently experienced, over an extended period of time.
Sport24 asked: Please offer a prediction ahead of what has been billed as the Test of the year.
Hennie le Roux: Having been very unfortunate to lose in Wellington, I’m backing the Boks to win by two points. It will be a very close game underpinned by immense commitment, physicality and pride. While both sides are very well balanced in terms of overall capabilities, I believe that home ground advantage will offer Meyer’s men the edge. The breakdown point will prove critical, as the All Blacks boast the ability to convert turn-over possession into points. As such, the Springboks will need to better protect their ball possession and limit the number of attacking turn-overs they concede.
Peter de Villiers
Braam van Straaten
Carel du Plessis
Joe van Niekerk