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Little guy with a big heart and a cool head

Submitted by on Saturday, 23 May 2009No Comment
Little guy with a big heart and a cool head

What Hennie le Roux lacked in brawn he made up for in brains, he says — but he’s not sure he’d last long on a field today.

Apart from commentating on rugby, what are you doing these days?

I usually avoid that question by saying that I get involved with entrepreneurial schemes; but I use my network to put people together and ensure I can deliver value. I’m involved in a number of things, not one overriding occupation.

I read in an article in Noseweek magazine that you have a wine farm?

That would be nice – I think they meant Game farm. I have one between Grahamstown and Kenton on Sea. It’s all soft skin stuff – Zebra, Kudu, Bushbuck and Hartebees – that sort of thing; but I’d like a wine farm…

How much time do you spend there?

I get down there about every six weeks. Not often enough. The place requires work 24/7 so I could never spend enough time there; although I do have a manager which helps.

The rest of the Noseweek story was about a contentious property development you were involved in. How did that end?

I believe the development went ahead. Initially I was going to get involved with the marketing of it; but the developer decided to on-sell the project before I did. Not sure how I ended up in Noseweek though. There were some problems about the number of units being planned, but it was all within the town-planning scheme and my only involvement was giving an objective opinion.

Why aren’t you involved in coaching?

Initially when I retired from rugby, because I founded the Players Association, there was too much of a conflict of interest to go into coaching. And after that I suppose I just never got into it. Also you have to have the right temperament to handle a whole range of personalities with different skills sets.

You founded the Players Association in 1995, are you still involved in it?

I’m still a founder member of it, but I’m not that involved anymore.

What do you think the Association has achieved?

I think we have done extremely well. We have got player’s medical insurance; we have protected their rights and interests and we have rectified some questionable management policies by some of the Unions. In 1995 for instance there were contract issues – Kerry Packer was signing players up and SARU also wanted them to sign, and player’s were too scared to stand up for themselves. Also there were stupid requirements. For example players had to give up 80% of any sponsorship they got. How do you give up 80% of a boot if you are sponsored by a boot manufacturer?

Considering the size of most of the players who were playing in your time, you are not very big physically – how did you deal with that?

I think that is the great thing about rugby – if you have the right heart and the right mind, you can contribute. Size never intimidated me much – maybe I was too concussed to realise that size hurts! But rugby is a contact sport and either you climb in and give it everything, or else you are going to get sore. However, looking at the size and strength of the players these days, I don’t know if I would be playing, or would have achieved today what I did in 1995.

In an amateur era I had to almost be a professional, to be successful. I think my capabilities were always quite limited. But I had made a commitment that I wanted to be successful at rugby, so for instance I started gym when I was still at school and continued through university; I also used to study the game and analyse my opposition; it was probably that attitude which gave me the edge on people I was competing against for a position. Every time I went from one level to the next – like from club to provincial, or from provincial to international, I tried to bring something new so that I could add value to the team. Otherwise why would they want me?

You played both fly-half and centre for the Springboks; what do you consider yourself to be?

Fly-half. I managed to migrate quite easily to centre, but I played fly-half right from school, through club rugby to Super 12. When I was under twenty, I was only playing for the C team at university, that’s after having captained EP Schools at Craven Week. Then Hannes Marais found me, realised I was unhappy and gave me a leg up. He said come and play in the open league – in the first few weeks I was in the reserves and just three months later I played intervarsity against Stellenbosch. I never looked back from there.

You changed the way fly-halves had traditionally played here; tell me about that.

Well, we came from an era where the fly-half stood back 15m and kicked. I’m not averse to the kicking game – there is obviously a place for it. But I used to try and take the ball flat and bring the forwards into the game. It was quite unusual/ unorthodox in the rugby played at that time.

You had a problem where The Cats took you to court – what happened there?

They took me to court because they were paying me and I was refusing to play. They lost the case.

Were they paying you?

No – The Lions were paying me; that was the technicality. I didn’t have a contract with The Cats; I had a contract with The Lions.

Were you refusing to play?

Well I had been on a training camp with The Cats – where we stayed in Vereeniging and spent three weeks building the team around my style of play. I had just started a mineral water business and it wasn’t really convenient to go on the camp, but I went anyway. I put in a lot of commitment and effort into the whole thing. Well come the end of the camp, and for some bizarre reason, I wasn’t in the side. I was very confused, but I accepted it and re-committed myself to work. Then three weeks later I got a call saying I must rejoin The Cats. At that point I said rather leave me out. I had already rescheduled my work once and I had committed 100% to them at the first camp, but was quite badly let down – so that’s how my, ‘refusing’ to play came about.

Who was the coach?

Andre Markgraaf.

How did you get on with him?

Well I was the incumbent in 1995 and then they chose a Springbok team in 1996 without me, and I didn’t even get invited to the trials. I was a bit confused by this. I later saw him at the Sunnyside hotel where the Springboks were gathered and I asked him what he was looking for, and why I didn’t fit in. I wanted to know why I had fallen out of favour so quickly. He said that he knew I was a very good friend of François’s (Pienaar), and as a result… I think make of this what you want.

Back to the court case – didn’t that blot your copybook with the powers that be in rugby?

Well I never pulled on a Springbok jersey again… (laughs); either that, or my forming of the Player’s Association and taking on the administration. But that’s all hypothetical, I suppose – maybe some people would say I was just getting too old.

What, at 29? Talking about coaches, you also played under Harry Viljoen and Kitch Christie – how were they?

He took a lot of criticism, but a coach I really enjoyed was Harry Viljoen. Harry gave you scope. He gave you the room to be creative. He was very self-driven. Harry brought me up to Transvaal at that time so that’s how I ended up playing for The Lions and The Cats. Kitch was a pretty structured type of guy without being complicated. I really enjoyed him as well. And of course, his record was amazing.

Jumping to the final of the 1995 World Cup – the stories about the All Blacks being poisoned or having food poisoning; what’s your take on that?

It would be nice if that story was buried for once and for all. But I heard rumours that some of the All Blacks walked to town the day before the final and they ate chilli dogs or something. That could have made them ill. But at the end of the day, that game should have been over in 80 minutes, because Reuben Kruger scored a legitimate try that was disallowed. I sincerely hope that there wasn’t any underhand stuff – I don’t believe there was.

What are your memories surrounding that final?

Just an immense mix of emotions; it was frightening, exciting, enlightening, rewarding, humbling all mixed in one; the fear of letting your country down; the elation of winning. We were carried forward on a huge emotional wave of support by the country as a whole.

How did you feel when all that died down?

It was very difficult to readjust and say, ‘What’s my next goal?’ After all, winning the World Cup is the ultimate success for a rugby player. But rugby carried on – it didn’t just stop. I think if it had, there would probably have been a huge void – but we played on.

You were on the 1994 tour of New Zealand – how did you enjoy that?

New Zealand is tough – they have a fantastic work ethic and such a commitment to what they do. But we were well received and there were no incidents; unfortunately we never won there; we lost two and drew the third.

How were you at other sports?

I played Grahamstown Schools tennis and I played Eastern Province Nuffield (cricket) trials – so I wasn’t too bad a ball player.

What sport do you do now?

I used to cycle a bit, but I’ve been advised if I want to start a family – which we do – I better get off the bike. I still do a spot of running and a few exercises. I’m not a golfer – I play when I’m placed under pressure, but it takes too much time.

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