Springboks

SA’s week of No 15 rebirth

Willie le Roux (Gallo)
Willie le Roux (Gallo)
Cape Town – It has been the sort of week in early winter to warm the cockles of all free-spirited South African fullbacks’ hearts.

First there was the sea change to Heyneke Meyer’s thinking, with the national coach effectively replacing the reliability and predictability of Zane Kirchner in the Springbok side with the Cheetahs’ twinkle-toed, instinctive Willie le Roux in the starting fullback jersey for Saturday’s Test against Italy in Durban.

Then on Wednesday night, as the Baby Boks opened their defence of the IRB Junior World Championship by thrashing the United States 97-0 in France, Western Province prodigy Cheslin Kolbe lit the early fuse with some captivating, snaking runs from the last line of defence.

What’s more, when he was rested for a significant part of the second half against the admittedly mismatched foes – the side will have it much tougher when they tackle England on Sunday – former Maritzburg College favourite Jesse Kriel of the Blue Bulls simply carried on where Kolbe had left off, with bamboozling surges of his own.

It may be too early to venture that a welcome revolution is taking place across the board in South African rugby, with a toning-down of the modern obsession with defence and structure, but with the likes of Le Roux and the two Baby Bok flyers proving so easy on the eye of late, connoisseurs of attacking rugby will be stirring with renewed hope.

Certainly the re-growth of multi-talented No 15s must be especially pleasing to such entertaining, impulsive icons of the Bok fullback landscape as HO de Villiers, Gysie Pienaar and Andre Joubert.

De Villiers, for one, is “thrilled to bits” about Meyer’s selection of Le Roux against the Azzurri.

The now 68-year-old De Villiers, who won 14 caps between 1967 and 1970, told Sport24: “I do feel that if we genuinely let him go, give him his licence, Le Roux could become a giant of our rugby.

“Full marks to Heyneke for picking him; we’d have been naive not to. I hope he emphasises to him ‘if you deem it on, give it a go, though just keep in mind that this is a Test match and don’t be too reckless’.

“I’m not sure the Boks’ overall game-plan will change too much; against Italy it shouldn’t make an enormous difference anyway.

“By and large we’ll probably play the same way, but at the same time I hope we’ll have an extra thrust because someone like Willie le Roux, who could almost be given a No 28 or a (numberless) jersey or something, can be wherever he feels he should be.

“He is the type of guy with the ability to read a game ... he’ll know where to go.”

De Villiers said he was convinced a strong part of the Cheetahs’ playoffs-challenging competitiveness in Super Rugby this season was down to “what Le Roux inspires in them”.

A minor quibble, says De Villiers, is that he might have opted for utility back Gio Aplon in a wing slot ahead of Bjorn Basson, although the latter’s own “safety under high balls” might have been a reason for his selection as a handy aide to the debutant Le Roux.

“It’s easy to be a selector from the sidelines, of course, but Aplon is brave as anything, and if there’s any midfield loose ball to scoop up, he’s the kind of person I would wish to see taking advantage of it.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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