Forget about the current form of the All Blacks and the Springboks – if the South Africans don’t match the desperation of their opponents they will undoubtedly lose at the Mbombela Stadium on Saturday, warns Willie le Roux.
FORGET about the current form of the All Blacks and the Springboks – if the South Africans don’t match the desperation of their opponents they will undoubtedly lose at the Mbombela Stadium on Saturday.
That is the considered opinion of Springbok utility back Willie le Roux, who spoke to the media on the eve of the arrival of the beleaguered New Zealanders in South Africa.
And the vastly experienced Le Roux should know — in the 14 Test matches he has played against the All Blacks since 2013, he has been on the losing side a whopping eleven times, although the better news is that the two wins and the draw he has experienced have been under the current coaching partnership of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber, who since 2018 have successfully turned around the fortunes of the Boks after some very lean years, particularly since they finished with a bronze medal at the 2015 World Cup, where they incidentally just lost 20-18 to the All Blacks.
The All Blacks are now in camp at Montecasino in Johannesburg ahead of Saturday’s almighty Rugby Championship opener in Nelspruit and Le Roux says the frantic Kiwis’ desperation to bounce back from two home losses to Ireland will make it anybody’s game, and he makes the crucial point that if the Boks don’t match the hunger of their opponents, they will not win.
“They will be desperate to beat us in South Africa and we need to show them the same desperation. Our games with the All Blacks are always frantic affairs, and (lately) they always go down to the 80th minute, and that is when you see who wants it the most.
“That is what our match on Saturday will be all about — who wants it the most,” Le Roux summed it up.
“And, yes, we are at home but that is not an advantage that will just win you the game. Of course it helps… you draw energy from your fans and they can help give you momentum in the game but you still have to play extremely well for an entire 80 minutes to beat New Zealand.”
Le Roux will turn 33 the week after the second Test against the All Blacks on August 13, by which point he will have played 76 Tests (if he features in both games against the Kiwis) and he is only too aware that he had had a roller-coaster ride with the public critics.
Fans often forget that Le Roux was a finalist for the World Rugby Player of the Year in 2014 and in the 2019 World Cup final he rose above the sharpened knives to play a starring role when it mattered most.
Fortunately, that ride is currently on an upward climb after two strong cameos in the series against Wales, in the first and third Tests. In Pretoria. Le Roux came on early at half-time after Elton Jantjies had struggled at flyhalf and he steadied the ship and steered it home.
In Cape Town, he played a different role, this time after Chelsin Kolbe fractured his cheekbone, but in both cases, Le Roux showed wisdom and experience in his game management.
It is likely that he will remain in the same role on Saturday as Frans Steyn — the king of cover off the bench — continues to work his way to full fitness after a long while off with a hamstring injury, and Le Roux says he would be cool with that.
“The Bomb Squad thing is new to me, and it feels quite strange coming on quite a while into the game, but I have enjoyed the responsibility of lifting the energy,” he said. “And you have to be prepared to come on in any situation because injuries can suddenly occur, as they did with Cheslin.”
Regarding the criticism, Le Roux says he has learned to roll with the punches.
“Sometimes you play well and you still get criticised!” he laughed. “I guess the criticism shows that the fans care — that is how I look at it. “It is great that the fans get emotional about the Springboks but the criticism I take to heart is what comes from the coaches and my teammates.”