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Make way for Willie: Why Le Roux still deserves his Springboks shirt

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16th August, 2020
17

Verblitz star Willie le Roux is too old and should have bowed out after the 2019 Rugby World Cup – at least according to some.

Those same people believe way should be made for younger players to slip into the South Africa national side, with the likes of Damian Willemse or Aphelele Fassi candidates to take the Springboks fullback jersey.

Le Roux’s performance last year was inconsistent due to his off-form performance under the high ball for most of the World Cup. However, subpar high-ball takes aside, even at this off-form standard he’s been a key cog in the machine of Springbok success of 2019.

His role as a crucial playmaker in the side has certainly not disappointed, and his excellent flair with the draw and pass makes him one of the deadliest playmaking outside backs in the world.

It’s no wonder he’s the designated killer in the Springboks, the man to put in the last pass and set the winger free. His ball skills, though questionable during last year’s inconsistent spell, were still reliable in his passing, both in long spin passes and short playmaking passes, no matter what the set-piece backline try-scoring tactics required of him.

Willie le Roux run with the ball

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

As the designated killer, he was one of the three primary playmakers in the Springboks for the past year along with game-controlling scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard, the essential distributor for the Boks.

There have been several backline plays this man’s hands have played a part in.

Against Italy, one of his in-form games of last year, the fullback sparkled as a playmaker and also in other aspects.

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With several phases off, De Klerk slid the ball towards the right of the pitch. Le Roux followed the play behind the main attacking line. He communicated as the ball slid left with several phases off De Klerk smashing into the Azzuri defence. He stayed connected with Pollard, who was poised deeper behind the carrying phases stacked out from the ruck.

The two men had maintained the structure to pave a way for the ball towards the wing, With Pollard communicating for more phases and advancing his position on the pitch, the two playmakers slowly created a good position in the pitch to put in the try-scoring play.

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Finally, when the flyhalf took the ball off the pass of De Klerk, he pinpointed the it straight into Le Roux’s hands. The fullback used pace to run the ball and draw in defenders, finally putting in a skilful over-the-top pass to Cheslin Kolbe, who used his dancing sidestep to slide through to the line.

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He also beat Sergio Parisse in the high ball with a tap back of the ball during a chase of De Klerk’s box kick, regaining possession for the Springboks. This led up to a try play created by Pollard’s linebreak and a pass to Pieter-Steph Du Toit. However, the try was later disqualified due to an obstruction.

He was involved in the chase of an Azzuri player on the loose after an intercept. He pressured the Azzuri in defence, causing the kick that was later regathered by South Africa.

Afterwards he stayed in the play, coming in from Pollard’s pass and using a draw and pass to set Lukhanyo Am loose. He then supported Am when the centre was tackled, ensuring continuity of play. He ran downfield, proceeding to plant a chip kick regathered by Du Toit. Though the pass in the tackle went awry, this play highlighted how deadly this man was.

From a lineout play several phases followed, thinning the Bok defence off the passes of Pollard and the scrumhalf. Finally the ball came to Le Roux, who put in the crucial kick that resulted in Makazole Mapimpi’s chase and try.

Another of his form games of last year was the Springbok warm-up match against Japan.

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After taking the high ball, Le Roux hit the line on full throttle, delivering the pass to Mapimpi to finish with a score.

He was also involved in a set-play try. With a dominant scrum from the Springbok pack the ball came to Pollard, who put in a flat pass to find Le Roux on the edge. Le Roux committed Kotaro Matsushima before sending the ball out to Mapimpi for a finish.

With a regather by Kolbe starting another series of passes, the ball came to Pollard behind and a pod of dummy runners. Pollard played it through the hands of Le Roux, the handling was as smooth as the sheen of the fabric of the ball as it went through the hands of multiple players. Finally Du Toit gave the final draw and pass to guarantee Mapimpi the finish.

During the next clash with Japan in the quarter-finals he was the one to give the try assist for Mapimpi’s try in the corner. With Le Roux behind in defence as a fullback on the left side, the line was flat against the Japanese. The ball was ripped out and went through forward hands.

Pollard came in from deep, hitting the line hard as he took the ball off Mostert’s pass. Using pace to beat the Japanese, Pollard’s running line sliced through the defence, Japanese players at his heels in fervent pursuit.

The flyhalf used a beautiful pass to float it wide to Le Roux, who came in from the fullback position, taking the ball as he hit full throttle on his pace, ripping across the grass.

With Matsushima chasing, he committed the chasing winger and used his trademark draw and pass to put it away for Mapimpi. This ensured that Matsushima could not get back in time, causing Mapimpi to power through the winger and over the line.

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His ability to deliver the deadly pass to set another player free on the edge of the defence is rivalled by few in the world. In Japan his ball skills have run rampant. The fullback has simply been everywhere in the Top League.

If he is to hit full form against the Lions, this time with his usually strong handling overall, he will be a serious threat, and one that will undo the sewing of the Lions’ defence.