South African flank Bernard le Roux is committed to the French cause, writes GAVIN MORTIMER.
He may have had a bang on the head two days earlier but Bernard le Roux showed no signs of sluggishness when he sat down with SA Rugby magazine in February. The Moorreesburg native was led from the pitch towards the end of France’s victory over Italy looking more than a little unsteady but 48 hours later – and despite being ordered to rest for a fortnight – Le Roux was in sparkling form as he reflected on the past 12 months.
The last time we caught up with the 24-year-old Le Roux was back in May, just after he’d been named in the France squad to tour New Zealand. So how was it, Bernard? He laughs at the question, no doubt recalling the three-Test whitewash, and admits it was ‘tough’. Though he adds: ‘It was an awesome experience. I learned a lot and I grew up a lot. It wasn’t a great tour because we lost all three Tests, but it was still exciting.’
Le Roux made his debut in the second Test in Christchurch, a match France lost 30-0, the first time they’d failed to trouble the scorers in a Test since 1990. Nevertheless, Le Roux put in a decent shift on the flank.
‘I can’t remember much about my debut,’ admits Le Roux. ‘There was so much adrenaline it flashed by – the anthems, the haka, the match.’
Four days before then, Le Roux had pulled on the French jersey for the first time in the midweek win over the Blues. On that occasion he was outstanding, providing an intelligent, industrious link between the forwards and backs as the tourists cruised to a 38-15 victory.
‘Unfortunately, after that game I went down with a stomach bug,’ explains Le Roux. ‘I didn’t want to tell the coach in case he dropped me from the squad so I was training, going back to the hotel, being sick and sleeping, then getting up and going to training again. It was pretty stressful.’
‘I can’t remember much about my debut. There was so much adrenaline it flashed by – the anthems, the haka, the match’
It’s that sort of commitment to the cause that earned Le Roux a call-up to Les Bleus. On tour in New Zealand he was one of a trio of South Africans in the French squad, but while Antonie Claassen and Daniel Kotze have since been jettisoned by coach Philippe Saint-André, Le Roux has played an eye-catching role this year in the French renaissance.
‘Last year was rough for France but this year there’s a good team spirit in the squad,’ explains Le Roux, who, along with the likes of Jules Plisson, Jean-Marc Doussain, Brice Dulin and Hugo Bonneval, is one of a clutch of players in their early-20s. ‘We’re building something good and we’re having fun doing it. We enjoy each other’s company, there’s a really good vibe in the squad and we have confidence in our coaches.’
Le Roux missed two of France’s November internationals – including the defeat to the Springboks – because of suspension and injury but he’s been a tigerish presence in the loose in the Six Nations as the French opened their campaign with victories in Paris against England and Italy.
‘We really needed to win against England,’ reflects Le Roux. ‘Going into the game, we were under a lot of pressure because of what happened last season [France finished bottom of the Six Nations] but we got off to a brilliant start with two tries in the first 15 minutes. Then we slackened off and England came back, but we scored that amazing try at the end. It was a great match to play in and a good experience for me in my first Six Nations match.’
After the game Le Roux swapped shirts with his opposite number, Chris Robshaw, and then posted a photo on Twitter of the England captain’s jersey. The mutual respect was earned on the field, though that wasn’t the only thing they swapped.
‘We said a few words to each other on the side of the scrums,’ admits Le Roux, laughing. ‘But most of it was clean!’
Le Roux packs down in the back row alongside two world-class players, Louis Picamoles and Yannick Nyanga. The latter is all lithe athleticism, while Picamoles is a bull of a No 8, as he showed in powering his way over the tryline for the score that ignited France against Italy.
‘Louis is an extraordinary man,’ says Le Roux. ‘Off the field he’s always laughing, but the moment he steps on to the field it’s like someone’s flicked a switch. He turns into this machine, this beast, and if he ever makes a mistake he gets really angry with himself.’
It’s been five years since Le Roux arrived in Paris from South Africa, a rather bewildered young man with ¤100 in his pocket. He’s come a long way but one senses the journey’s still got far to run, and no bug in the stomach or bang on the head will prevent him from winning many more caps for his adopted country.
– This article first appeared in the April 2014 issue of SA Rugby magazine