By: Takudzwa Makoni
Mercurial. Unpredictable. Special.
Willie Le Roux is arguably the purest rugby player South Africa has produced in quite sometime. As the Springboks embark on their end-of-year tour, rugby fans will be parsing through game-tape and editorials, seeking insight on just how ready the ‘boks are to lift the Webb Ellis trophy once more. The ‘bok faithful will be paying particular attention to one Willie Le roux.
Watching Le roux ghost into gaps that didn’t exist half a second earlier, slaloming through tackles as he hits the line at exactly the right angle, is a joy to watch. Le roux is not particularly athletic, and while blessed with enough juice to get where he needs to be, Le roux relies more on instinct and an almost preternatural reading of the game. Contrary to popular belief, South Africa has produced our fair share of potentially ‘special’ players- think Tonderai Chivanga, Schalk Brits,
Gio Aplon, Johan Goosen, Bob Skinstaad, Brent Russel. Unfortunately, very few were given the opportunity to fully express themselves on the pitch, and most are left with the choice of either suppressing their natural instincts on the pitch, or having to leave the local set up in order to fulfill their potential, as Springbok rugby has traditionally stuck to pre-proscribed structure and physicality. With Heynecke Meyer’s willingness to trust his guys, empowering them to be themselves,
Le Roux has proved in his relatively short stint with the ‘boks that his quicksilver talent and audacious play is perhaps the final piece to the ‘total rugby’ that South African rugby fans have been calling for over the past decade.
Personally, the thought of Le roux being played at fly-half and having the ball in his hands as often as possible, releasing the big, hard running backs into space, is more than intriguing. However his relatively small size and periodical form issues would provide an irresistible channel for the opposition to attack, and while his kicking has improved exponentially, one would think twice before trusting his kicking out of hand during the pressure-cooker World Cup atmosphere. Besides, Le roux is at his best when receiving go-forward ball from fullback, and is deadly when the defence is on the back-foot.
His willingness and ability to counter attack, especially on badly cleared balls, provides the ‘boks with that score from anywhere potential, and gives teams an extra wrinkle to consider when kicking out of hand. Simply put, Le roux is one of the main reasons that the Springboks are fun to watch again. Perhaps Springbok history will mark his tenure under Meyer as the time when Springbok rugby decided to emerge from its blinkered, plan A: smack you in the mouth, plan B: smack you in the mouth harder, plan C: rinse/repeat, one-size fits all traditions, and embraced the inherent potential of trusting players to play to their strengths.