Rassie Erasmus has hailed Willie le Roux’s influence as the ‘backbone of the Bok team’ ahead of his 50th Test this Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Pretoria for SARugbyMag
During the 2017 June series against France, Le Roux watched the Boks as a spectator in the stands as they went on to claim a comfortable victory at Ellis Park.
It was a time when Le Roux remained out of the Bok frame, but seeing his teammates in action sparked a renewed desire to force his way back into the green and gold.
A superb 2017-18 season with English club Wasps duly earned the 29-year-old a Bok recall before the three-match series against England this past June, and he has started in all but one Test since then.
Le Roux’s experience and decision-making in a new-look back three has been integral to the Springbok cause this season, and his desire to reach the 50-Test milestone was part of the reason that saw him released from his club to feature in the final two games of the Rugby Championship.
On the eve of reaching that half-century mark against the All Blacks this Saturday, Bok coach Rassie Erasmus recounted a story of just how Le Roux had defied all his expectations.
‘I was actually just chatting to Willie about the time I was coaching at the Stormers, and he had come over from Boland on trial. I had essentially told him “no, you’re not good enough”, and he went to the Cheetahs instead.
‘Now he is the backbone of our Springbok team, and is set to play his 50th Test. So he’s definitely proven me wrong, and I’m so happy for him. He’s got a real calming influence and brings experience to the back three. I’m really proud of him.’
Le Roux’s presence and poise is said to have particularly eased the transition to Test rugby for a number of Bok backline newcomers.
One of those is star winger Aphiwe Dyantyi, who couldn’t help but smile when asked how influential Le Roux had been to his progression on the international stage.
‘Willie is an amazing guy, really amazing,’ Dyantyi emphasised. ‘I’ve learned a lot from him, and watched him play right through his career for Boland, the Cheetahs, the Sharks and the Springboks.
‘I even remember playing in the backyard, and doing chip kicks and saying “I’m Willie le Roux”. So to be playing with him now is truly amazing. I think he is a legend of the game, and as a collective we’d love to make it a special occasion for him this Saturday.’
Photo: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images