British & Irish Lions

SA-born lock duo making headlines in France colours

Paul Willemse (Getty Images)
Paul Willemse (Getty Images)

Paris - A rejuvenated France have stormed to the top of the Six Nations table after impressive performances collectively and individually, none more so than the South African-born second-row pair of Bernard le Roux and Paul Willemse.

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The duo, who both qualified for Les Bleus on residency grounds, have been at the heart of a side which has dispatched World Cup runners-up England and Italy so far.

"We have little jokes in Afrikaans but both of us are truly French. It's been 10 years since I moved here, I've spent a third of my life in France," 30-year-old Le Roux, who grew up in the Western Cape said.

"I'm really proud of the choice I made to come here. It gives me an enormous pleasure to play for France."

Willemse, 27, moved to French side Grenoble in November 2014 after featuring for South Africa's Under-20s two years earlier.

"We don't like the idea of us being the South Africans who play for France. For me we are truly France's second-rows because we've been here for such a long time," Willemse, who was born in Pretoria before moving to Namibia, said.

"I've been here since I was 21, and him since he was 19. For us, we were born in South Africa but we're proud because we're France's second-rows."

Racing 92 lock Le Roux has been in scintillating form making the most tackles of any other player in the Six Nations tournament with 38.

"The most I've done in a game is 33 so I'm still far off. With today's rugby you can put everything into a tackle, you tackle where you can but you have to stay in your zone.

"If you start leaving your zone you weaken the team so you have to be cautious," he said.

Le Roux 'an example'

Montpellier's Willemse praised Le Roux's efforts so far this campaign.

"He's an example. His work on the field is something else. There aren't many players who can do what he does on the field.

"To make two, three tackles in a row is really impressive and it's helped my defence too," he said.

After the victory over Italy, France coach Fabien Galthie gave his side three days off.

Willemse chose to remain in the French capital with Le Roux rather than returning south or heading to Africa.

"My family were in Namibia with my wife and children. I stayed in Paris with Bernard. We ate out, we ate well, we made the most of it but it was calm," he said.

Le Roux and Willemse are expected to face the world's most capped lock in Wales' Alun Wyn Jones on Saturday in Cardiff in their next Six Nations match.

"It's massive what he's done with Wales. He started in 2006 when I was still in school," Le Roux said.

"He made more than 20 tackles in his last game. He's a leader, he's everywhere. He's a nuisance on the field," he added.

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