Should Willie Le Roux retain his fullback jersey for the Springboks?
Many say Damian Willemse and Aphelele Fassi are the future. However, few truly appreciate his value, especially off the ball in setting the attack.
Le Roux has been a regaled playmaking fullback for a long time, but he is believed to have high-ball inconsistencies and he is not fast enough to keep up.
So, how good is Le Roux actually?
We should look at one game that summarises Le Roux. He made some errors but was extremely creative with the ball in hand. This would be the game against Japan in the World Cup.
While many would say that this does not count as Japan are not in contention as the best in the world, Japan have some of the best tactics, and Le Roux did well in areas of brains and not brawn. Many have often felt he was a frailty for the Boks in 2019, but he really was a playmaker who made a couple of errors.
I have split his performances into ten-minute periods, or chukkas, for reference. Contributions will be rated as impressive, positive, neutral and negative.
Impressive will be actions that could create a try or require high skill, like a mispass or cross kick that comes off.
Positive would be an action that benefits, like a try-saving tackle or clean distribution or even a carry.
Neutral actions are usual actions you expect from a player: attending rucks, passing, and catching a simple high ball.
Negative actions are errors like missing tackles and dropping balls.
Le Roux’s overall contributions will show us one thing: he is not a weak link, he is an invaluable link.
First chukka (two contributions)
Positive: He recovered a dink over the top from Japan and launched a great kick to touch. He got the ball out of his own 22 and near the ten-metre mark off halfway.
Neutral: He snaffled a loose ball off Timothy Lafaele’s grubber.
Second chukka (two contributions)
Negative: He missed a tackle on Kenki Fukuoka.
Neutral: He held off and floated defensive position and called for cover.
Third chukka (two contributions)
Impressive: He did a flat mispass to a teammate off the split-shape attack from the scrum, creating Makazole Mapimpi’s line break.
Positive: He did a dummy and went himself, crossing the gain line.
Neutral: He claimed one high ball, passing to a teammate to kick. He made a nice attempt to chase but did not get to the ball.
Fourth chukka (three contributions)
Positive: He took a long pass from a teammate, before firing a teammate into space on Kazuki Himeno’s shoulder, leading to a line break and near try (which the Boks messed up by attempting an audacious offload).
Negative: The ball bounced off his shoulder and into touch, but his contest saved the Japanese from getting cross-kick success. He dropped a ball, ruining an overlap created by good passing.
Oddity: The ball bounced through his cradle without him touching it. It was not his fault but physics. Fortunately the Boks recovered to clear.
One impressive, three positive, three neutral and three negative.
So, it was not exactly the best of first halves you can get with Le Roux, was it? Le Roux should be out to redeem himself in the second half.
Fifth chukka (one contribution)
Negative: He lobbed an over-ambitious pass metres forwards, while he should have done hands down the line.
Sixth chukka (two contributions)
Positive: He took the ball in the wide channel, committing softly and then sliding a teammate into space to cross the gain line. It was a similar case minutes later, distributing for a teammate to crash forwards.
Neutral: He did one ruck latch.
Seventh chukka (one contribution)
Impressive/positive: He linked with a teammate in support, fixed a defender and put in a teammate.
Eighth chukka (six contributions)
Impressive: He made a brilliant claim of a cross kick, and handed it back in to a teammate with a basketball-esque pass, but they fumbled.
Positive: Here is one bit I want to point out. He was on the wing seconds ago, then shifted himself to second receiver within blinks. This created the overlap and caused a break. He did a good pass to Frans Steyn with space to carry, and play continued. South Africa lost ground but gained momentum.
Neutral: He did a good chase and good tackle on the Japanese fullback. He did two ruck latch clean outs.
Two impressive, four positive, four neutral, and one negative.
To sum it up, he had a total of 18 contributions. Three were impressive, seven were positive, seven were neutral, and four were negative.
Combining positive and neutral impacts and weigh them against negative contributions, I will find a ratio of 17 to four.
He showed some decent high-ball catching and his passing was excellent. Some ambition at times caused errors. From this game, we know the good outweighs the bad for Le Roux. His errors are more than worth it when you consider his attacking influence.
Le Roux is not a weak link. When on form, he catches high balls excellently like in the World Cup final. His missed tackles were on the fastest players. Meanwhile, his catching – even when off form – is not as bad as it seems.
He is a superb link, although he is seemingly shaky at times to a casual observer. He is a superb one nonetheless. He deserves the 15 jersey for South Africa.