THE WILY WIL­LIE

It’s a dream to play just one match for Boks, but to play 23 is a priv­i­lege and great hon­our

The Star Early Edition - - RUGBY - ASHFAK MO­HAMED Padova

HE HAS had to go the long way around to get into the Spring­bok team, but now Wil­lie le Roux is one of the ma­gi­cians in the back­line.

The Bok full­back proved that once more in last week’s 31-28 vic­tory over Eng­land at Twick­en­ham when he an­tic­i­pated a Pa­trick Lam­bie chip over the de­fence, gath­ered the ball and drew the last two de­fend­ers be­fore pro­duc­ing an au­da­cious off­load with two English­men on him for Cobus Reinach to score.

Last week, he was also named as one of the five nom­i­nees for the World Rugby Player-of-the-Year. We sat down with him ahead of to­mor­row’s Test against Italy, where he will be tak­ing a breather on the bench.

How’s your golf?

Ag, I’m just al­ways the guy who fills up the team. I just go along for fun. But I’m al­right – I think I’m a 14-hand­i­cap­per, so I can play a bit. So, I en­joy it.

And your rugby?

Erm, I would say … I am pleased over­all. Ob­vi­ously, it’s an hon­our to play in this team and I am thank­ful for ev­ery­thing that has hap­pened. At the week­end (against Eng­land), it felt good again and we man­aged to score a good try, and I was in­volved in it. So, I feel good.

Did you read Pat Lam­bie’s chip?

Ja, I half looked at that space in be­hind and I shouted at Pat and he didn’t even look, he just kicked it. But it’s some­thing that we prac­ticed in the week and luck­ily it came off and we went to score a try.

It looked like you may have held on to the ball too long be­fore you made the off­load to Cobus Reinach?

Ja, I was in two minds be­cause (Eng­land full­back) Mike Brown had me al­ready on the one side and I had to pass. But if I had passed too early, then (Eng­land No8 Billy) Vu­nipola would’ve been able to catch Cobus, so I had to hold on to it right un­til the end, and luck­ily it worked out nicely.

You were at Boland for four years and had to play Vodacom Cup and Cur­rie Cup first di­vi­sion rugby. Now you have 23 Test caps. How do you feel about that?

Well, when I moved to Gri­quas in 2012 from Boland, my first goal was just to play one Su­per Rugby game. But that year, I played all 16 games in a row for the Chee­tahs. And your dream is al­ways to play for the Boks, even if it’s just one Test – you just want to know that you are a Bok and you want to wear that blazer. So, to have played 23 al­ready is a priv­i­lege and a big hon­our, and you can just say thank you to the Lord for the tal­ent that he has given me.

You were once called the “Quade Cooper” of Boland rugby!

My friends al­ways joked with me about that be­cause they ob­vi­ously watched Quade Cooper at that time and how he played, and they com­pared me to him when I was play­ing for Boland. But it didn’t bother me and I just kept on play­ing.

But how dif­fi­cult was it to deal with the fact that the Storm­ers didn’t give you a chance?

I must say, you come from the Cape and your dream was al­ways to play for the Storm­ers, and I tried. I was part of the train­ing camps, along with Bolla Con­radie, who was at Boland then. We would train with them and do ev­ery­thing, and then in Jan­uary they would cut the squad for the tour­na­ment and just send us back to Boland.

So yes, it is heart­break­ing and it was dif­fi­cult to ac­cept. But you can’t crawl into a hole – you’ve got to look at other op­tions and if you get an op­por­tu­nity, you must grab it with both hands. So, luck­ily I got a chance with Gri­quas and they said I could play Su­per Rugby for the Chee­tahs. Luck­ily, things worked out for me.

In Heyneke Meyer’s first year in 2012, the Boks were seen as play­ing a con­ser­va­tive game­plan. But since he picked you in 2013, there has been a real ef­fort to play a more at­tack­ing style. How do you find him as a coach?

Firstly, he is a great coach. He is a good per­son – he is hon­est with you and speaks to you in a straight­for­ward man­ner. He told me in the one-on-ones be­fore I played my first game that he might give me a chance. But then I did get my chance and I played, and then he also told me that he won’t choose me if I don’t play to­wards my strong points. He also said that if I don’t make mis­takes, then he would know that I didn’t try my best. So, I am one of those play­ers who tends to make some mis­takes, but I also get things right. So, that’s how it works, and I am just grate­ful that he gave me a chance.

That must be so im­por­tant, that you have the free­dom to play your nat­u­ral game, be­cause it wouldn’t have worked if he had to tell you ex­actly what you are sup­posed to do and change your game around to­tally?

There would be games where I kicked the ball back 10 times, and then the peo­ple boo you in the stands. But there is a rea­son for that, you un­der­stand – it’s not as if I want to kick it back, but that is just how it works out some­times. But in the next game, I could run the ball back 10 times. That is Test rugby.

The peo­ple must un­der­stand that Su­per Rugby, Cur­rie Cup rugby and Test rugby are all to­tally dif­fer­ent. Test rugby in­volves each coun­try’s best play­ers that you are play­ing against ev­ery week­end – there is a lot more pres­sure.

Some­times it looks as if the team rely too much on you to make things hap­pen on at­tack. Do you get that sense, or do you feel that the team are re­ally work­ing well as an over­all at­tack­ing unit?

No, in terms of the team as a whole, we will al­ways be in our at­tack­ing shape – whether we are in our 22 where they are kick­ing off on us, or we are in their 22, we are al­ways in the same shape. We play what we see in front of us, and if there is a full de­fen­sive line in place, it’s then stupid to run if you are alone there at the back. So then you rather kick it back.,

But I would say we are al­ways in our at­tack­ing shape as a team and I don’t think that they ex­pect too much from me. I just try to play my game like I have al­ways done, and noth­ing has changed. For me, I just want to get my hands on the ball and be in­volved.

You of­ten come in at first re­ceiver. Do you like to do that, or do you think you op­er­ate bet­ter in space from the back?

I like do­ing that, oth­er­wise I wouldn’t be go­ing in there. It is some­thing that hap­pens nat­u­rally – I some­times don’t even re­alise that I am there, but then I find my­self there. I pop up some­where, and I have that feel­ing of fly­half from my younger days, so it’s nice for me to go in there and set the for­wards up, and to see whether I cre­ate some­thing there. I get along well with the fly­halves and they know if I come in, they just shift one po­si­tion on, and if they are there, then I just slot in one po­si­tion out. I fall in any­where, I just play.

What makes you tick, or in­spires you?

Jisso, you go through some tough times where they have said no to you and that you are too small and won’t make it, and things like that. So, just to be where I am now, and how I play and stuff, I want to give mo­ti­va­tion to and in­spire younger guys who are in the same sit­u­a­tion as I was.

To say no mat­ter who you are, big or small, you must never stop dream­ing or play­ing be­cause your break will come. And if you get the chance, you must take it. So, it’s about in­spir­ing younger guys who may not be the big­gest around, but they are quick.

Who were some of your role mod­els grow­ing up? Favourite play­ers?

I al­ways en­joyed how Car­los Spencer played – the way he used to do things. He pulled off those odd chips, passed the ball

I must say, you come from the Cape and your dream was al­ways to play for the Storm­ers and I tried ... It is heart­break­ing and it was dif­fi­cult to ac­cept, but you can’t crawl into a hole – you have got to look at other op­tions ...

be­tween the legs and he ac­tu­ally runs out from his try­line and passes the ball just away from the up­rights to his wing.

So, that is who I used to look at, and I also en­joyed watch­ing Brent Rus­sell – he was small, he was quick and he scored great tries. Like Bryan (Ha­bana), Bryan was also one of my big he­roes, and now play­ing with him … Jean (de Vil­liers), ev­ery- one I looked up to, Schalk (Burger).

What do you think of Jo­han Goosen at full­back?

Goosen is a very tal­ented player and we know each other from the Chee­tahs, so I am very happy for him. You just get one chance and you have to use it, so I wish him well.

Of course, we see each other as a threat, but we are good friends too, and you give a guy a chance. And I am very happy for him after all his in­juries that he is back in the set-up. I hope he does well this week.

How do you feel about be­ing nom­i­nated for the World Rugby Player-of-the-Year award?

Ja, that was ac­tu­ally a shock as I didn’t ex­pect that. But I am very thank­ful, and you can’t do it with­out your team. So, it’s thanks to them and to the coach for giv­ing me the op­por­tu­nity.

What do the Spring­boks still need to do to be ready to win the World Cup?

That’s a dif­fi­cult ques­tion. I would say you should never just think you’ve made it and you’ve ar­rived, be­cause then what hap­pened in Ire­land could hap­pen again. Then you come right back to earth and you re­alise what you did wrong and which ar­eas of your game to work on.

You must keep on im­prov­ing and have the same ap­proach ev­ery Mon­day. You can’t do it dif­fer­ently or re­lax just be­cause you won at the week­end. You start your prepa­ra­tion over and work hard. We beat Eng­land, but now we had to have the same ap­proach to the Italy game.

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