Willie le Roux has garnered significant praise for his Super Rugby and early Test performances. But the Castle Rugby Championship will be a truer measure of his aptitude, writes RYAN VREDE.
I'm loathe to draw conclusions about players after only a couple of Test starts, but it appears others in the media and public are more generous. Le Roux has been widely hailed as the answer to the Springboks' lingering problems at fullback, stirring optimism with his supposed attacking flair.
However, the gulf between Test rugby and Super Rugby is considerable. So much so that Super Rugby form, or indeed Tests against Samoa, Scotland and Italy – international rugby's minnows – cannot be a good measure of a player's ability to negotiate far sterner Tests against New Zealand, Australia and, to a lesser extent, Argentina.
Le Roux's introduction to the Rugby Championship is a gentle one, with two Tests against the Pumas. The intimidating atmosphere in Mendoza will be a departure from the home comforts of Soccer City this weekend, but the Springboks should still have too much quality to replicate the nightmare they experienced in Argentina last year.
But then it will kick off for Le Roux, with Tests at two stadiums – Eden Park in Auckland and Suncorp in Brisbane – where, historically, the home teams have thrived and the Springboks have struggled. The All Blacks and Wallabies are equipped to exploit any deficiency there may be in Le Roux's game. Some of the hyped press he has received has implied he is bulletproof, but the 23-year-old is, undoubtedly, unrefined.
And so he should be. There are but a handful of players who've made a seamless transition from Super Rugby. Test experience is critical to that refinement and I would hope that Heyneke Meyer will stick by him for the duration of the tournament, even if he struggles to adapt initially. There is a marked difference between the early struggles of a talented rookie and those of a terminally hopeless one. If you've watched the game in a professional capacity for long enough and had your knowledge informed by the most astute coaches in the game, you learn to tell the difference.
Le Roux is a talented player with the potential to make his mark on the Test stage. Whether he has the temperament for it and the character to recover from early failures (these are a certainty), remains to be seen. Those qualities separate the players who make it and those that don't.
I can almost guarantee that those who have built up Le Roux to be something he isn't, on the evidence of his early Tests, will be falling over each other to administer the axe if his showings fall below their unrealistic expectations. Perspective in situations like these is something most of the South African rugby fraternity lacks. Le Roux is now seen as a potential Messiah for the Springboks, the man who will drag South African rugby kicking and screaming to a bold, new attacking reality. Let him fail and he will be consigned to the scrap heap, with attention shifted to the next buck who shows even the slightest bit of promise.
Here's hoping Le Roux is made of the right stuff. Lord knows the Springboks need him to be.
Photo: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images
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