Bok flyhalf Handre Pollard and assistant coach Mzwandile Stick have highlighted the immense value of Willie le Roux’s contributions which often goes unnoticed.
In the latest SA Rugby magazine, Le Roux spoke to JON CARDINELLI about his World Cup journey as well as what he has gained from his time spent playing overseas in a wide-ranging interview.
Pollard and Stick also provided insight into the influence of Le Roux with many failing to see, let alone appreciate, how influential Le Roux can be over the course of a contest.
‘Willie doesn’t get enough credit for the work he does off the ball,’ says Pollard. ‘Maybe people only see the end result. Cheslin Kolbe will step through the line and Makazole Mapimpi will finish in the corner. So often, however, Willie is fracturing defences with those little cross-kicks or delayed passes. You go back and look at the tries we scored at the World Cup, and almost every one has been influenced by Willie in some way.
‘Willie plays like a flyhalf a lot of the time,’ Pollard continues. ‘I know better than most that the flyhalf is under immense scrutiny. When you get something right you’re the hero and when you drop the ball you’re the villain. Willie made some mistakes but he also did a lot of good things that went unseen by people outside the camp. They preferred to focus on the negative aspects of his performance.
‘The truth is he’s absolutely indispensable to our cause. We’ve always believed that he’s a player who can deliver when the heat is on. We’d seen it before over the 2018 and 2019 seasons. We had every reason to expect another clutch performance in a game like the World Cup final.’
Erasmus made significant changes to the gameplan when he became Bok coach in 2018. The approach required more than one playmaker on the field, and it’s for this reason he brought Le Roux – who was unused by the Boks in 2017 – out of the international wilderness.
‘Willie is in the top two in terms of creating tries for the side,’ says Stick. ‘What really sets him apart is his communication. From the first game in 2018, he stepped forward as a guy who understood our approach and had the ability to execute it. He developed to the point where he became another voice for the coaches on the field of play. What helped, of course, was his close relationships with his teammates. That translated into something special in the big games.
‘Makazole and Lukhanyo Am have walked a long road together, but don’t underestimate the bond that exists between Makazole and Willie. Willie did so much for Makazole in terms of helping him and positioning him at the World Cup. That combo of Makazole, Cheslin and Willie developed into a potent one for South Africa, and while Makazole and Cheslin received due plaudits, Willie was the key.
‘Who creates the tries?’ Stick asks rhetorically. ‘Perhaps people don’t see that or don’t ask themselves that question.’
Pollard and Le Roux enjoyed some success at the Boks in 2014 and 2015. When Le Roux returned to South Africa in 2018 after spending some time with Wasps, however, his teammates noted the change in his game.
‘The halfbacks and the fullback work together closely in terms of organising the backline,’ says Pollard. ‘He’s an extra set of eyes for me and Faf de Klerk. He knows where the space is on the field, and has the skill to step up and make the big attacking and kicking plays himself.
‘That allows me to play with more freedom. I like to run hard at the advantage line and sometimes I can’t get back into the formation until one or two phases later. Most teams nowadays want that extra decision-maker who can slot in at first receiver when required, someone who can lend the team some direction while the No 10 is on the deck.’
*The full feature on Le Roux can be found in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale.
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