Ollie le Roux admits the pace of European rugby suits his game but would dearly love to end his career with the Cheetahs.
The former Springbok prop moved to Ireland at the end of last year to take up a contract with Leinster, a move that saw him miss the climax of the Currie Cup and a title-win for his beloved Free State. He began the European season strongly, starting in the front row and providing Leinster with plenty of impetus.
His new team failed to make the European Cup quarter-finals, but are still top of the Celtic League. When his contract expires in May, Le Roux hasn’t ruled out a possible return to Bloemfontein.
“I’ve spoken to Free State about coming back, but nothing is decided just yet,” he told keo.co.za. “I definitely have one more season left in these bones.
“I love playing in South Africa, in both the Currie Cup and Super 14. In spite of everything, it really is an incredible country. There are small things that get you down over here like the sun rising at 8:30 and setting at 16:30. The prices are also astronomical, I mean if you go for a cup of coffee it’s nearly R200, which can put you off going out. The people also don’t compare, they are not as outgoing as South Africans.”
Having played over 300 first class games for South African teams, Le Roux still believes the southern hemisphere competitions are superior to the ones played in Europe.
“The Super 14 is a lot faster and wider,” he said. “I’d say the intensity is the same over here, but in the Super 14 there’s a lot more structure whereas over here they tend to rely on the individual. The Super 14 also sees more free-flowing moves between the forwards and the backs, whereas it’s just as physical but much tighter up north.”
The latter aspect is one that suits Le Roux to a tee. As an aging front ranker, Europe seems a good place to be.
“At 34, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. I no longer have to worry about covering a Stirling Mortlock or a Doug Howlett because the pace of the game is that much slower. I can play a full game for Leinster quite comfortably, but after 70 minutes in the Super 14, I’m completely exhausted.”
Le Roux could well stay on at Leinster, who may not be opposed to the idea given his extensive experience at every level of the game.
“I think I proved myself in a big way when I arrived,” he said. “I’d played enough rugby to offer a bit as a player, and I was happy to help in other ways. Every now and then I’d give the guys some input on how to improve a drive or fine-tune a move, and occasionally they take my advice.”
Leinster boast several Ireland names with Brian O’Driscoll and Shane Horgan just two of their Test stars. Le Roux lauded their influence for both club and country but at the same time lamented their lack of exposure to the southern hemisphere game.
“They’re very passionate players and legends in this country, what we’d call ‘The Untouchables’. It’s frightening to see how much skill these guys possess and in a way it’s a shame they will never experience the Super 14. People [South Africans] will never appreciate just how special they are, I mean some of their performances, especially in the wet European conditions have been amazing to watch.”
Le Roux hasn’t featured much of late due to a rib injury, but the great thing about European rugby is the lengthy break between matches. Leinster’s last game was a 25-16 victory over the Ospreys on 5 January, while their next outing is scheduled for the 16 February. Le Roux is confident he’ll be back in action by then.
By Jon Cardinelli