South Africa’s Willie le Roux: Still Learning, Still Loving, and Far from Retirement

Willie le Roux, the 34-year-old Springbok fullback and double World Cup winner, remains passionate about rugby with no plans to retire soon. After returning to South Africa, he's committed to high performance and mentoring young players.

Ken Borland
Ken Borland

Last Updated: 2024-07-07

Louis Hobbs

6 minutes read

Springbok fullback Willie le Roux may be 34 years old and a double World Cup winner, but he says he is having no thoughts of retirement, his love for the game of rugby keeping him motivated.

A Passion That Knows No Age

Le Roux began another international season for South Africa against Ireland at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night, the same Pretoria stadium where he played a key role for the Bulls in reaching the United Rugby Championship final.

This year has marked a return to South Africa for Le Roux, who previously played for Wasps in England (2017-2019) and Toyota Verblitz in Japan (2019-2023). But he is at pains to stress that he has not returned home for a couple of years of easy paycheques and then retirement.

Retirement Isn’t Soon

“I’m not going to say I’m going to be done this year or the next, I’ll just take it season for season, but the one thing I can guarantee is that it won’t be soon,” Le Roux told

“I look at guys like Willem Alberts and Ruan Pienaar, who still played in their 40th year. That motivates me, why not try and get there too? It’s definitely my love for the game that keeps me going, I’m not ready to watch from the sidelines yet. I’m still just always learning and trying to get better.”

“I was a bit nervous coming back to South Africa because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. When you sign for a union like the Bulls, there are expectations, and I didn’t want people to say I’ve just come to Pretoria to retire. That’s definitely not me.”

“There are a lot of young, good players at the Bulls and the Springboks and they can learn from me and I learn from them because they bring a different energy and they see the game differently. Your age and the number of caps you have don’t matter, you can always still learn,” Le Roux says.

Milestones on the Horizon

The scorer of 15 Test tries for the Springboks is also closing in on two significant milestones and he admits they are in the back of his mind. Le Roux played his 94th Test against Ireland and he should become South Africa’s eighth centurion later this year.

He is also just four Tests away from breaking the record for the Springboks’ most-capped starting fullback, currently held by 2007 World Cup hero Percy Montgomery (80).

“I know I’m close to those milestones, but that sort of thing can also catch you out. You don’t want to think about it too much because you might get injured or not play well. You must still perform to get there, so I’m not focused on that, just on playing as well as I can,” Le Roux says.

Frustrating End to URC Season

The URC ended in frustration for Le Roux and the Bulls. Having produced a majestic 56 minutes in the semi-final win over Leinster, Le Roux then suffered a concussion and was forced to endure watching from the sidelines as the Bulls faded to defeat in the final against the Glasgow Warriors at Loftus Versfeld.

“It was very sad after the previous weekend and having worked so hard the whole season, to lose a home final. And I couldn’t play, I had to watch in the stands. I don’t enjoy watching rugby because you can’t do anything about what happens on the field.”

“But I can’t see myself doing something other than rugby once I finish playing, so I’ll have to sort that out. Coaching is something I’ll look into, do the courses in the meantime because you don’t want to think about finishing playing, but you have to be sorted for life after playing rugby,” Le Roux replied. 

Resilience in the Face of Rejection

It's been one heck of a journey for the ex-Boland, Free State and Griquas player and Le Roux spoke candidly about how he had to deal with rejection early on in his career, including from current Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus. 

That’s despite his obvious talent and the fact he was born in Stellenbosch and educated at Paul Roos Gymnasium, two of the heartlands of South African rugby.

“I made it from a totally different route, playing for teams like Griquas and Boland. It’s tough to hear that you’re not going to get picked, that you’re not good enough. But you just have to keep knocking that door down. You can change people’s minds if you get that opportunity.”

“I remember those early days when I went to Western Province and Rassie was director of rugby and he would not sign me. He said lots of things to me … but now that I’ve done what I’ve done, he tells everyone about his mistake. And I’ll always be grateful to Rassie for giving me another opportunity with the Springboks in 2018, after I had been left out the previous year and he came and saw me play at Wasps,” Le Roux says.

Playing with Joy and Creativity

Once he is retired from the game he has graced at professional level since 2010, Le Roux can feel pride at the resilience he has shown, often in the face of a critical South African public ever-keen for scapegoats. But one imagines he will derive more pleasure from the many dazzling moves he has pulled off on the rugby field.

“I’ve always just wanted to express myself, experience the same joy I had as a kid playing next to the field. Andre Joubert was definitely a hero of mine and I used to love Brent Russell and the way he just accelerated into the game. And Carlos Spencer, the way he played – passing through the legs, banana kicks, crosskicks – I love to try those things.”

“When you start playing, you want to attack from everywhere. When you chip-and-chase and it comes off, it looks cool, but there is always an error-rate attached to that sort of play. If it’s coming off 1/10 times then you must obviously not do it anymore, but if it works 7/10 times then you know you can have a go.”

One can always improve on one’s decision-making and I like to play more attacking rugby, but when it’s on,” Le Roux concluded with the tempered wisdom of a master of his craft.

Ken Borland
Ken BorlandSports Writer

Ken Borland is a freelance sports journalist and commentator based in Johannesburg, South Africa. His specialities are cricket, rugby, golf and hockey (he’s the winner of an SA Hockey Association Merit Award), but he has occasionally ventured further afield from these main sports!

Although sport is his job and something he loves, he is also passionate about the outdoors, wildlife and birding; conchology; music and collecting charts; movies; and his faith.