Durban - He might be a new face for the Sharks, but Willie le Roux is no newcomer to the South African rugby landscape and is quickly proving to be a valuable member of the team, one who embraces his position and in turn has been welcomed with open arms.
“I’ve settled in here nicely, there’s a good vibe in the squad, it’s something new for me with new team-mates but I’m excited about the season ahead,” he told the Sharks’ official website. “I want to make an impact here at the Sharks and we’ve had a good start so far after two matches.”
Adapting to the conditions in Durban at this time of year is never easy and expansive rugby has rarely been employed at Kings Park with great reward in the summer months when ball-handling is so difficult.
“Saturday’s match against the Jaguares was tough but I thought we handled it well under pressure and came through with a win.
“It was really difficult though, I must admit. The ball was wet and slippery at that time and handling of the ball was not easy. We managed to throw the ball around, but they’re also a good off-loading team and fortunately our defence held out.”
As a player known for wanting to take on the opposition, does he have license from the coaches to attack from the back, or is there a set plan to play to?
“I think the coaches back me to try things or they wouldn’t have signed me,” he laughs. “They leave it in my hands to play the ball where I see the space, within the structures of the game plan. But we also back our defence, and when there’s turnover ball, then it’s time to play. That’s what we like and everyone really switches on.”
Talking of backing his style, he agrees that his move to the Sharks was based on the fact that he wouldn’t be playing a completely different style of rugby in Durban to what he was used to in Bloemfontein with the Cheetahs.
“Although most of the teams play the same way, here at the Sharks it is more similar and it’s been easy fitting in here, I’m enjoying it.”
And although he is known for his attacking prowess, he acknowledges that defence is just as important, especially if it leads to turnovers and opportunities to counter, which is the most dangerous form of attack a team has in its arsenal.
“We call Tuesday training sessions ‘Test Match Tuesdays’ because of all the tackling we have to do,” he says. “You have to back your defence on game day because everyone wants to get their hands on that turnover ball, that’s the best opportunity to attack from.
“Everyone has been working hard on defence ever since the pre-season, and our defence has gone pretty well in the first two games.”
After the first couple of rounds of Super Rugby, the Stormers this Saturday present a massive challenge for the Sharks, something that excites the Springbok fullback.
“This weekend is a huge derby against the Stormers down in Cape Town. It’s going to be a big one and I’m looking forward to it. I rate Cheslin Kolbe (his opposite number for the Stormers); he’s a great attacking player and they have a few new, young players as well who just want to play, and will be told by the coaches to play what they see. I don’t expect they will go into their shells, they will want to express themselves.
“They will have real attacking threats out wide and we will have to be on our best, defensively, this weekend.”