'It wasn't easy, I can promise you that' - Willie le Roux on RWC semi final
With the Bulls readying to face Saracens in round 1 of the Champions Cup at Loftus Versfeld this coming weekend, Jim Hamilton went to Pretoria to chat to a world cup winner who knows a thing or two about the big occasion.
Wille le Roux is now at the Bulls, having made his debut in the United Rugby Championship recently and impressed coach Jake White in particular.
The double world cup winner is relishing the opportunity to play against a side like Saracens, brimming with English talent, some of which he would have faced in the semi final in Paris just over a month ago.
Speaking to former Saracens lock Hamilton in a Rugbypass TV preview ahead of the match, he says that South African audiences are only now starting to get used to their sides being in the formerly European-only competition that is reserved for the best of the best.
“I’ve played in it before obviously when I was with Wasps and you see it’s the best club competition in the world, it’s the best of the best playing against each other. So I think people are now starting to understand this is going to be amazing and you see the best players in the world touring to South Africa, club sides who you never might have seen.
“Where would you think of Saracens coming to Loftus to play the Bulls? I mean, that’s amazing.
“The people want to see all of the big games playing, all of the big names from Sarries and from all the big clubs abroad, so I think the people are starting to buy in and it’s nice for them to watch some good rugby over December, when it’s holidays.
“In SA in December it’s holidays from about 15th December. The people go on holiday, they start braaing at the beach and then they just watch rugby and drink brandy.”.
Reflecting on the tight world cup semi final match against England in Paris, that the Springboks struggled in for most of the match, le Roux says that he was never under any illusion that it would be any easy game.
“We knew it was going to be tough. Some people said they thought it was going to be easy, but, there isn’t an easy game, never. And you know how the media can talk about teams and say this one is going to win.. on a rugby field it’s just a whole different ball game, it doesn’t matter who you play.”
“I was on the bench watching and everyone, and I think everyone back home, was like, ‘what is going on?’. They brought their A game, if you’re not up to there on that standard, you’re in trouble.
“Luckily there’s one thing about our team, we found a way. Not easy.
“It helps when you bring on a guy like Pollard and you know he doesn’t miss. It’s just amazing how the guys that came on, the guys that started, the guys watching the game, the guys giving Rassie some things that they see as well and Rassie gives it onto the field.. Just how we all work together as a group, I think that’s why we won that game and how we found a way to win that game.
“It wasn’t easy, I can promise you that. Sometimes there was doubt like, you’re not going to win now and you’re going to be going home, or you’re going to drop the people back home, and that’s the scary thing. You don’t want to drop everyone back home, you want to see them happy and you want to make a difference in the country.”
At the Bulls le Roux finds himself amongst a wealth of young talent, including Bok flyers Kurt Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie. He sees Moodie in particular as someone who has the willingness to learn and should be around for a long time.
“Moodie is unbelievable. Unbelievable. He plays 13, he plays wing, I think he can play 15 as well. His speed he’s got, his step, his understanding of the game, he knows where to run the lines, he knows who to run off. He studies, he learns, he doesn’t mind listening.
“Some young guys come through and they think they’ve made it and they think they know everything, they don’t want to listen to older guys or guys that maybe have seen different things. But Moodie, I tell you, he listens. He wants to learn, he wants to get better, so it’s just unbelievable to be working with him and training with him.
“This weekend will be a good game for him to see where he is again, measure himself against the best. Saracens has been there, done it. Unbelievable team. So just to be able to play against them, the world class players and measure yourself against them.
“And being 21 and winning a World Cup now, going to Champions Cup now, just to test yourself against the best club sides in the world, it’s amazing and we’ll have to get the ball to him and let him do his work.”
The Bulls host Saracens on Saturday 9 December at 18:30 local in Pretoria.
You can watch this full chat exclusively on RugbyPass.tv.