Cape Town – A funny thing has happened to Willie le Roux in recent weeks: his known strengths have sometimes let him down whilst his perceived shortcomings have tightened up encouragingly.
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Perhaps that is exactly the weird sort of phenomenon you should expect of so talismanic a rugby player?
But it is probably also fair to say that the silky-skilled fullback will desire a more complete personal showing for the Springboks this weekend as they round off their Castle Rugby Championship campaign against arch-rivals the All Blacks at Ellis Park (Saturday, 17:05 kickoff).
Truth be told Le Roux, now the holder of 20 Bok caps after his debut against Italy at Kings Park in 2013, has gradually subsided in Tests during the current, calendar year after a fabulous start.
It is not as though he is actually “struggling” in the fullest sense, as recent appearances have always contained various constructive or efficient elements to his play, but inconsistency has raised its head to some degree during specific matches.
The mercurial character was positively sublime at times during the June window, a period in the green-and-gold highlighted by arguably his finest game for the national team yet against Wales, also in Durban.
Le Roux beautifully teed up two of the four Bok tries and registered another for himself in an imperious first-half blitz against the thoroughly bamboozled Welshmen, as South Africa eventually cantered to a 38-16 triumph.
In giving him the premier, nine-out-of-ten rating on the Sport24 performance card for each home player, I recall noting that he was also brave and assured under the high ball, so his match against the Six Nations stalwarts was as close to perfect as you could imagine.
Greater defensive solidity has continued, pleasingly, to be a feature of the 25-year-old’s play for much of the Rugby Championship, as he has largely made his tackles firmly and also been responsible for some massively alert, last-gasp interventions in or near the Bok in-goal area to stave off imminent danger from the opposition.
Oddly, it is more in his forte, the attacking department, that Le Roux has come up a bit short ... a situation prevalent in all three Bok games thus far against their biggest southern hemisphere rivals Australia (twice) and New Zealand.
While still giving defending players the yips when on the ball at times just because of his known X-factor, Le Roux has been a little more error-prone or imprecise than he or the expectant colleagues around him would probably like.
He knows it, too, because he does not try to disguise the mortified, puzzled look on his face whenever he knocks on, dinks the ball out on the full or issues a needless forward pass – afflictions that were especially apparent in the narrow 14-10 Wellington loss to the All Blacks.
It cannot be particularly easy being Le Roux, as expectation of the unexpected, if you like, is something that burdens him just about every time he is on the ball: and not every quest for an outrageous game-breaking initiative turns unfailingly to gold for any creative sportsperson.
But with flair starting to blossom to a greater extent throughout the Bok ranks, perhaps it might be worth coach Heyneke Meyer, or others in the Bok brains trust, gently reminding Le Roux that he doesn’t have to feel too pressured to be behind every Midas Touch.
It is just possible that occasional hiccups in front-foot execution by the crowd-pleasing No 15 have been for the very innocent reason that he’s been trying too hard.
With the tournament silverware no longer at stake, and even given that no Bok-All Black Test is ever a trivial business, perhaps on Saturday Willie le Roux will manage to banish the few flaky elements that have popped into his play.
That could make him an irresistible presence once more, simultaneously reminding the planet a year ahead of the 2015 World Cup that he’ll be a real – and also reliable – force in his maiden crack at the Webb Ellis Cup ...
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