Springboks’ World Cup title defence more important than 100th Test cap for veteran Willie le Roux

Springbok fullback Willie le Roux runs with the ball during Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test against Argentina at Ellis Park. Photo: Phill Magakoe/AFP

Springbok fullback Willie le Roux runs with the ball during Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test against Argentina at Ellis Park. Photo: Phill Magakoe/AFP

Published Jul 30, 2023


Veteran Springbok fullback Willie le Roux has that 100th test cap in the back of his mind, but for now, his focus is to help the reigning World Champions prepare defend their title in France in September and October.

Le Roux (33), should he be selected, will play in his third World Cup for the Boks, and currently sits on 86 caps after Saturday's final Rugby Championship clash against Argentina at Ellis Park.

He has his eye on making a century of tests in the near future to join a select few Boks to achieve this feat, but for the time being, he wants to fight for a place among the select 33 players heading to the World Cup. With the way he has been playing, Le Roux should have one foot on the plane already.

"Playing one game for the Boks is something. Getting to 50 was special and if I get to 100, that is something. But for now, my focus is not on how many games I've played," Le Roux said.

"It is a World Cup year, and there are a lot of things coming. But if that time comes, we will cross the bridge then. I am thinking about it, and hopefully, I can play my best rugby this year and next year to get there."

By the end of the World Cup, Le Roux could be well into the 90s with his tests tally, and his return to South Africa — where he will play for the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship and Champions Cup — could extend his international career should he maintain his form.

But before Le Roux, who has played for the Boland Cavaliers, Griquas, Cheetahs, Canon Eagles, Sharks, Wasps, and Toyota Verblitz, can think of racking up 100 test caps, he wants to pour his all into France 2023.

As part of the old guard on the side, Le Roux still knows how to keep up with the youngsters, and in the process, he is keeping them on their toes as well.

He's been guiding the likes of flyhalf Manie Libbok and wingers Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie. But at the same time, Le Roux says he is learning from them too.

"It's massive and unbelievable to see what those guys can do when you give the ball to them early. They are the steppers and have so much speed. The energy they bring actually keeps you young, it keeps you going with them and you try to stay with them.

"As an older guy, it's good for you to run around with the younger guys like (Canan) Moodie. He is 20 years old, and I am 33 so there's a 13-year difference but we try to stay with them. You feel like you are younger."

Over his career, Le Roux's presence in the Bok squad has been questioned by plenty of supporters.

Some feel he should not be in the squad and space should be made for other players, while he has also received backing from other supporters.

The criticism doesn't phase him, though, because he knows you won't be able to keep everyone happy — especially when it comes to the national side.

Lately, though, he has been proving his doubters wrong with his form — especially linking with the flyhalves, scrumhalves, and wingers of the Boks, and he is a vital cog in getting the Springbok backline to run on the attack.

"Good criticism or bad criticism, we always say that is good for the Boks. It means the people care, you want that. If they don't say anything, they don't care about a guy playing for the Springboks.

"As a player, you have to live with it, you can't let it get you down. You have to move forward. As long as the support staff behind me backs me, that's good.

"Half the people like me, the other half don't. It is what it is."

Le Roux is looking forward to returning home after playing rugby abroad for the last eight years.

He says the last time his family saw him play a provincial game was back in 2016 when he was still at the Sharks.

"I've been overseas for quite a while in my career, and I felt it was the right time to come back home. To see the family a lot more so that they can come to watch me play on the weekends. That is a big thing for me.

"The Bulls came through for me, and I look forward to working with Jake (White). They have a good squad there."


IOL Sport

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