Le Roux has overhauled Kirchner

Wed, 20 Nov 2013 16:01
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The evolution of the Springboks and progress made by coach Heyneke Meyer is evident in the latest team announcement.

For those misanthropes who are still doubting Heyneke Meyer's ability to coach a team to play artful rugby, they need only look at the Springbok fullback on Saturday to see how far off the mark they are.

The team for Saturday has a few noteworthy selections - starting with the six forwards, two backs split on the bench.

Then there is Coenie Oosthuizen getting his first start, in a Test, at tighthead prop.

However, the most significant is probably when Meyer named Willie le Roux to start at fullback - ahead of Patrick Lambie and Zane Kirchner.

Meyer has been candid about the fact that he sees Lambie as a 'utility' that will play a vital role - be that off the bench or in the starting XV - in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup.

It means the fullback starting berth, going forward, was a toss-up between incumbent Zane Kirchner and 'rookie' Willie le Roux.

In the media guide for the year-end tour their profiles describe them as "rock-solid" and "the most exciting player to hit South African rugby in 2013", respectively.

On Saturday the 'most exciting' player will feature in the final Test of the tour, against France in Paris.

"Willie was the one guy who I wanted to see how he performed in these [Northern Hemisphere] conditions and [whom I] wasn't sure about, so he has done wonderfully well to prove himself on this tour," Meyer said, after naming a team that features Le Roux in the No.15 jersey and Lambie on the bench.

Kirchner, who has played 28 Tests since his debut in the third encounter with the 2009 Britain and Irish Lions, last played for SA against New Zealand at Ellispark on October 5.

Le Roux, who is five years Kirchner's junior, featured in all 11 of the Boks' games this year - starting at fullback in the first five while Kirchner was injured, then shifted to the wing for the next four - with Kirchner at fullback - played off the bench in the first game on tour against Wales (when Lambie started at fullback) and finally produced a man-of-the-match performance when starting at fullback in the 28-0 shut-out of Scotland last week.

Meyer admitted he had some misgivings about Le Roux, but the player's game-breaking performance last week finally removed any doubt.

"I felt at one stage that his kicking was not good enough for international level and I also felt he was suspect under the high ball," the Bok mentor told  media scrum in Edinburgh.

"But he has worked hard at those aspects of his game, and I have to give credit to our kicking coach Louis Koen on the way that he has helped Willie with his development.

"When I was first exposed to Willie, in the early part of the year, he struck me as a player who could be coached, and I think that has been proved correct.

"The big test was how he would develop, and he has now developed to the point where he is a good allround fullback who can play a tactical game.

"He was a 50/50 choice coming onto the tour, as Zane Kirchner had played well in the Rugby Championship.

"But Willie has proved he can play at this level now and do something special in the fullback position.

"I do believe fullback is his best position, in terms of how he can contribute to by running into flyhalf in certain situations.

"I am very pleased with the way we have managed his development through the course of the year and am happy for the player."

Always dangerous with ball in hand, Le Roux was rewarded for his outstanding Super Rugby form with the Cheetahs when he made his Test debut against Italy in Durban in June.

He is very versatile. Apart from wing, where he played mostly for the Cheetahs, Le Roux can also play fullback and flyhalf.