Bok fullback Willie le Roux is captivated by the lure of the British Lions
The Bok fullback is keen to meet the British and Irish Lions
● Had the Springboks’ brains trust trusted in the truism “you are only as good as your last game”, Willie le Roux’s 2019 Rugby World Cup (RWC) would have ended differently.
A shoulder injury suffered in a collision with Pieter-Steph du Toit in the quarterfinal against Japan seriously inhibited the normally free-spirited player, but he, and the coaches, soldiered on.
Unlike the much publicised restoration to fitness of Andre Joubert, another left-footed fullback who was struck by orthopaedic upheaval in the knockout stages of a successful RWC campaign, Le Roux’s injury was kept under wraps.
There was, however, no hiding the impact it had on performance. He appeared short of confidence and committed elementary, almost sleepwalking errors.
His shoulder may have been wonky but then-coach Rassie Erasmus and Co could not go into the business end of the RWC sans Le Roux’s experienced head in their back three. They persisted with the fullback allowing Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi to illuminate the game’s most glittering stage.
All is easily forgiven and forgotten in the hazy excesses of finals glory, but Le Roux knows the full restoration of his reputation doesn’t start with the Boks.
“If I’m good enough to be picked for the Boks against the (British and Irish) Lions that would be a goal,” the player said from Japan where he is playing for Toyota Verblitz.
Le Roux admits to being captivated by the Lions’ allure. The most recent series in particular resonates with him.
“I remember 2009 when Jaque Fourie scored in the corner. That was an amazing moment and then Morne Steyn kicked over from his own half to clinch the series.
“Everyone always talks about playing against the Lions. Just the vibe and how their supporters come over. It is red in the stands despite it being back home. It is an amazing experience to be part of.
“You only get the opportunity once every 12 years. There are a lot of players who have never played against the Lions.
“If you miss it now you might never get that opportunity again. It will be in the top three moments in your career if you get to play against them.”
Le Roux hopes his performances in Japan don’t go unnoticed. But it’s not as if he needs a shot at redemption. His 61-Test career is punctuated by virtuoso performances, most notably in Brisbane and Edinburgh in 2013.
The Boks win 65% of their Tests with him in the team. Of the 87 Tests the team has played since he made his debut in 2013 they have won 61%. They are more likely to win with him in the team.
For a player with his touch, appreciation for space and knack of making telling incursions into the backline it may rankle that he has not scored a try since dotting down against the All Blacks in Wellington in 2018. Crucially, however, he has had the defining hand in many since. Even at the RWC.
Le Roux is happy to improve and create for those around him. “I feel our team is evolving and growing,” he said of the Verblitz who compete in the Top League. “The Japanese players in our team are starting to believe and that is good for us. I’m enjoying my rugby. The guys love running. There is not a lot of kicking here,” he said of a league that relaunches next year in the hope of finding even greater global appeal.
Le Roux may be on distant shores but he is still very much part of the Bok mix.
“We’ve had some Zoom meetings. Also one-on-ones, just to see where your game is at and how many minutes you’ve played, as well as stuff that you need to work on. You talk regularly with them about your game. They are watching games all over the world. They don’t miss anything. They see everything.”
It is perhaps ironic that this year it is the opponents of the patched together Lions team who may be short of a gallop going into the series. Despite the Springboks’ inactivity, Le Roux has little doubt a Bok squad capable of rising to the challenge of the Lions will be assembled.
“There are a lot of guys in Europe who have been playing a long time,” reminded Le Roux. “The guys in South Africa are playing and a few of us are playing in Japan. Everyone is getting game time and there are a lot of players to choose from. All the guys want to know is if we are going to play. Even if there is just a week’s preparation, the guys will be on it. We’ll prepare the best we can and go and do the job. I don’t think Rassie has a problem picking guys from all over the world.”
He concedes, however, hitting the high notes of the RWC final might be a tall order.
The Boks had the benefit of a 19-week build-up and were a well drilled unit by the
You get the opportunity once every 12 years. There are lots of players who have never played the Lions
Just the vibe and how their supporters come over. It is red in the stands despite it being back home
time they vanquished England in the final in Yokohama. “It might be hard to go on from the RWC. All the boys are eager to get the jersey back on. When we get the opportunity to play we will be ready.
“I will always back the Boks. We will be up there and ready for the challenge.”
He reminds however that there is convincing to do. He doesn’t dwell on his performances at the last RWC but wants to be remembered for always trying his best.
“If you get the opportunity to play you give it your all and you give it your best. I don’t think anyone goes out there to make mistakes and not do their best. When I put on the Boks jersey I give my best. Hopefully I will get another opportunity to display what I do and what I love.”