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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.


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.


“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.

“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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Wonton 6 hours ago
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One game against Fiji is not enough to show that a player is ready to play the likes of South Africa. Spreading the ball wide too much increases the risk of turnovers and we turned the ball over 20 times against Fiji which is a lot more than what we did in the two England tests. We actually turned the ball over the same amount of times (20) against England in the 2019 semi final which we lost. Fiji didn’t make us pay for those turnovers but other teams will. In the 2nd test against England this year we had 100% success rate on attacking rucks. That’s the first time the AB’s have achieved this since the 2019 opening game of the RWC against South Africa. South Africa won last years RWC and Jesse Kriel did not pass once. The days of the Conrad Smith type centre might be over. Also Conrad Smith debuted in 2004 but he did not become an incumbent until Nonu did also in 2008. As for Rieko Ioane he and Jordie Barrett put in some very strong midfield hits in the 2nd test forcing turnovers several times. Rieko Ioane hasn’t played wing in years. If Proctor is moved to 13 then the best I think Ioane can hope for is an impact player off the bench. He does not have the aerial game of Caleb Clarke or the workrate of Tele’a for 11 and going to be selected over Jordan at 14. However its much too early to replace Rieko with Proctor. Rieko was excellent in the knock out rounds of the RWC. All Proctor has to show on his test CV is a good game against Fiji.

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Nick 7 hours ago
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Its almost like you read my comment on the other site on sunday morning Nick - you flagged all the same examples! 😝 Frost was motm for mine. That eg in the 56th minute in particular impressed me, nothing but sheer effort and a dupont/smith-like tracking line behind the D. Surely an effort like that from frost marries perfectly with that quote from schmidt at the start of the year about effort and work rate being 70-80% and talent is just the icing on top… What it also showed though was the players not making that effort, in that example he goes past both valetini and ikitau, and in the eg that finished with valetini scoring hunter paisami barely breaks a canter to support the break. And then there was the chase from wright and lancaster for the 2nd georgian try! One blemish - at kickoff I saw frost miss or get bumped off a few tackles and I felt like I saw what has been holding his selection back. I think because he is so big and is trying to get low to tackle, he seems to dip his head and ends up losing his balance or ability to adjust and ends up missing or making a soft hit. I think in the first 2 minutes he misses or makes 2-3 soft tackles, but you could clearly see the work rate and desire! He (the pod) also missed a kick restart or two? Also very happy to see harry wilson back in the fold. What impressed me from him wasn’t all the usual stuff he is known for, but all the other bits that usually let him down. He looked surprisingly good in the air at lineout time, physical at the breakdown, and good in the maul peeling off 3 georgians for one of the maul tries. Id have frost, skelton, wright as my 4-6 with LSL and wilson on the bench. i’m once again unconvinced by tom wirght - he was very good game 1, but game 2-3 he was back to more rocks than diamonds. There is no real other player to usurp him really so he stays in the team for now but I think Joe should put kellaway wherever he serves the team best and wright can be moved around him. Did donno do enough to overtake noah? My gut says no. They clearly had a plan to attack more so he looked better in that regard because he just had more opportunity, but they looked better off tate (who had a v good game also) then they did off donno.

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