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'There's no test for measuring your heart'

By Tom Vinicombe
Willie Le Roux of South Africa looks on during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 Gold Final match between New Zealand and South Africa at Stade de France on October 28, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

New Bulls recruit and back-to-back World Cup champion Willie le Roux is preparing for a seismic Champions Cup clash against Saracens at Loftus Versfeld this weekend.

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The 34-year-old is expected to line up at fullback on Saturday night in what will be just his third game for his new club, having recently returned to South Africa from Japan after spending four seasons with the Toyota Verblitz in the Rugby League One competition.

Saturday night’s fixture will also mark the first-ever clash between the two powerhouse clubs of South Africa and England, with last year’s Champions Cup the first time South African sides had competed in the competition.

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Deon Fourie reveals the story behind his nickname ‘Brannas’

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Deon Fourie reveals the story behind his nickname ‘Brannas’

For Le Roux, the game will represent just another step on the experienced outside back’s rugby odyssey following stints with the Cheetahs, Canon Eagles, Sharks, Wasps and Verblitz – a remarkable return for a player who many suggested during his formative years that he was simply too small to play high-level rugby. That’s an assumption that Le Roux has proven incorrect time and time again.

Speaking to Jim Hamilton in a preview of Saturday’s match for RugbyPass TV, Le Roux suggested that size certainly isn’t everything on the rugby field.

“Growing up in South Africa, everyone used to think you had to be this big guy running straight, you’re not allowed to pass ,” he said. “When we started playing, some people said, ‘You’re too small, you won’t play Super Rugby, you won’t play for the Springboks’.

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“There’s all these tests, they can measure your speed, your bench, your squat and all of that [but] there’s no test for measuring your heart. When you go to Japan, they like to do all these tests and write all the names up: ‘This guys squads 150 and this guy benches 150’, but then maybe on a three-on-two out on the pitch, they can’t draw and pass, or they can’t pass off their left, and I’m like ‘What does it help you benching 150 but you can’t do a three-on-two properly? Or you just can’t pass with your left hand 20 metres?'”

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Le Roux noted that perceptions have started to shift, however.

“[Now] everywhere we go we see people focussing less on those things and more what the guy can do on the field.

“I think most of the Saffas are different. They’ve got heart. Everywhere you go, they always say the Saffas don’t mind going into a dark place, whatever league they play in. I think that’s just who we are.”

It’s a mindset that proved fruitful at the 2023 World Cup, with the Springboks claiming the title following three one-point wins during the knockout stages of the tournament.

It’s a mindset that will also prove crucial in Saturday’s fixture in Pretoria, with both the Bulls and Saracens having won four of their past five matches in their local club competitions, the United Rugby Championship and the English Premiership, respectively.

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Saturday’s match is set to kick off at 7:30pm SAST on Saturday evening.

The full interview between Jim Hamilton and Willie le Roux can be watched on RugbyPass TV.

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Comments

3 Comments
J
Jon 224 days ago

Watch Willie in the 2015 and 2019 RWCs and you can see how special he was. Still a smart player but has lot a step or 3. Willemse is the FB of choice

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finn 8 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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