Willie le Roux says the encouragement from the Bok coaches to back your decision-making and take responsibility is one of the big points of difference at the Springboks.
In a wide-ranging interview in the latest SA Rugby magazine, the veteran Bok fullback provides fascinating insight into the World Cup campaign, as well as the Springbok environment under Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber.
Bok flyhalf Handre Pollard and assistant coach Mzwandile Stick also highlight the immense value of Le Roux’s contributions, which often goes unnoticed.
Le Roux evidently enjoys talking about the more technical aspects of the game. As he goes into the details about opposition running lines and body positions, and how he tries to identify the opposition’s cues and tells from his position at the back, one begins to understand why he is rated so highly by those in the know.
‘The great thing about Rassie and Jacques Nienaber is that they encourage you to make decisions on the field,’ he says. ‘They want you to play the situation and take responsibility. That was the big difference for me compared to what I had previously experienced at the Boks.
‘Nowadays, I’m trying to put teammates into scoring positions or make important defensive plays. I’m trying to create space for Makazole and Cheslin on the outside. I’m telling them when to shoot on defence and when to hold back for the kick. I’m telling them and the other backs what I can see from my position at the back.
‘This is a role I’ve grown to love and I’m grateful Rassie has backed me to fulfil it. On defence, Jacques has given me a clear message about what he wants. There is a lot of trust between myself and the coaches, and between myself and my teammates on the field.
‘It’s got to the point where I can shout at Cheslin and he’ll turn toward the threat without wasting a split-second to look around and assess the situation for himself. Makazole has so much speed, and I know that if I can straighten or hold on to the pass for just a second longer it will give him the chance he needs to disappear.’
Le Roux laughs when it’s suggested he had to move to the English Premiership to develop his attacking game. And who would have thought that Danny Cipriani, a flyhalf deemed surplus to 2019 World Cup requirements, would prove such a valuable mentor to one of England’s chief tormentors?
‘Danny would point out little things, such as how to plant and position your feet against a rush defence or how to adjust and straighten your run in the wider channels to create more space. We’re talking about subtle stuff but I found these small changes made all the difference to my game.
‘Danny also had a great appreciation for where the space was behind the defensive line. It was a great education for me and when I returned to South Africa, I passed on the message to assist my teammates at the Boks.’
*The full feature with Le Roux can be found in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale.
Photo: Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images