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How Willie le Roux is unlocking Swiss army knife Springboks backline

By Ned Lester
(Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

New Zealand pundits are claiming Willie le Roux has come into his own thanks to the latest evolution of the Springboks game plan employing more positional fluency in the backline. Le Roux offers far greater experience at 33 years old and with 82 caps under his belt compared to his current playmaking running mates of Damian Willemse and now Manie Libbok, who offer 26 and two caps respectively.

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The work rate and vision le Roux has displayed in recent games impressed the Aotearoa Rugby Podcast panel, who credited the full-back as a strong contributor to the Sprinboks’ big win in Italy.

“His ability to swing from one side of attack to the other and make a difference,” said ex-All Black James Parsons. “We talk about (Marika) Koroibete all the time but le Roux is really like that – maybe in a different sense. He is not a blind runner, he will normally get the ball in hand and manipulate the defence.

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“It also takes the pressure of Willemse, who is still learning his way at ten, when he can play in that second receiver role and someone like le Roux can stand up, it just sets him up for success. Sometimes Willemse was on the wing, they have got the ability to job share… the defence will give you the pictures that you need to attack and you are constantly having to think, ‘Okay, well who is running it here, who is running this cutter’. They just have threats across the park.”

Featuring in all three of the Springboks tries which were orchestrated by backline moves, the touches by le Roux displayed poise and impeccable timing to ensure his outsides had the time and space to finish the play.

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“It’s his distribution skills and being able to get the ball to that edge,” added six-time Super Rugby champion Bryn Hall. “(It’s) your Willemse and (Handre) Pollard that obviously chuck that (ball) in behind the pods, but it’s his ability to be on the edge to be able to then square it up whether it’s a short ball or a long pass, to get to (Makazole) Mapimpi or the other wingers.

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“He has also got a kicking game with little grubbers as well so it’s that triple threat that he brings and it’s great to see that he is being able to use all of those attributes that he does have and not just the kicking aspect.”

Full-back is where le Roux has found his international success but the time spent at fly-half earlier in his career has clearly influenced how coach Jacques Nienaber utilises the robust skillset his full-back has on offer. The leadership and confidence of the full-back were what impressed podcast host Ross Karl.

“The way he mixes it up when he goes into control at first receiver with Willemse, you can see how vocal he is, how in control he is of what is going on.”

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