Signing young South Africans seems to be all the rage in Ireland at the moment. The agents over there appear to be increasingly aware of the lucrative market that is Irish rugby. In the last few weeks, Munster have signed CJ Stander, Connacht have nabbed Danie Poolman (profile coming soon) and Leinster have secured second-row Quinn Roux on a one-year deal. There’s still been no official announcement from Leinster, but the deal looks done. Here, I take a look at Roux’s career up to this point and the potential benefits of the move.
As we saw in this week’s profile of CJ Stander, he was picked out as special from a young age. Roux’s progression has been a little different. Born and bred in Pretoria, Roux’s rugby interest began at the Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool (Afrikaans Boys’ High School). The secondary school is literally across the road from the Blue Bulls’ Loftus Versfeld Stadium. It’s no surprise then that Affies is one of the most prestigious and elite rugby schools in South Africa. The educational institute has produced many professional rugby players including Springboks Pierre Spies, Wynand Olivier and Fourie du Preez.
The fact that Affies normally field more than 10 senior teams every year makes it an achievement just to play 1st XV rugby there. Roux did so in 2008 and impressed enough to be selected for the Northern Transvaal provincial team for that year’s Craven Week. As explained in the Stander piece, Craven Week is one of the most renowned schoolboy competitions in the world. The best young players in the country are chosen to represent their province and it’s often the place where they start to build real buzz. To make a crude comparison, it was like Roux being selected for the Leinster schools team for an interprovincial series.
The best players during Craven Week go on to be selected for the South African Schools. While Stander was chosen as the Schools captain in 2008, Roux missed out on selection. But the 6’5″ lock was determined to forge a professional career for himself and, in 2009, decided on a 1,427km move to the Western Province Rugby Institute in Stellenbosch. Attending the WP Institute is like taking a Masters degree in rugby. Students pay around €12,000 for the privilege of a top-quality rugby education, although some receive scholarships. The Institue’s mission “lies in transforming young boys into rugby-playing men”. It’s a fascinating facility, and their website is worth a look.
The move paid immediate dividends for Roux, as the Western Province Rugby Union signed him up that same year. He battled hard to earn a place on the U19 side, and helped them to the semi-finals of the U19 Currie Cup, where, just days before Roux turned 19, they narrowly lost out to the Cheetahs. Still, the move had proven a success. Roux was now on the first steps of the ladder towards Super Rugby. The Stormers franchise is centred on the Western Province union, although players from the Boland Cavaliers are also eligible. If a player can reach Currie Cup level for WP he has every chance of stepping up for the Stormers. That was now the target for the determined Roux.
Having graduated from the WP Institute, 2010 saw Roux move to the Western Province U21 side. The year of intense physical preparation at the Institute had visibly benefited the lock as he neared his current 120kg weight. He became a key member of the side as Western Province won the U21 Currie Cup. Alongside Roux in that team were the likes of Johann Sadie, JJ Engelbrecht and Danie Poolman. On the same day, Eben Etzebeth helped the WP U19s to victory in the U19 Currie Cup Final. Etzebeth would soon prove to be an imposing road block on Roux’s journey to Super Rugby.
Still just 20 years of age, Roux graduated into the senior squad at WP for 2011. The second-row’s season got off to a decent start as he made appearances in all 9 of WP’s Vodacom Cup games, 4 of them starts. This tournament is the third tier of competition in South Africa, behind Currie Cup and Super Rugby. While Roux didn’t do enough to earn a Super Rugby spot, he was included in the Currie Cup squad later in the year. He only managed 5 appearances, 1 of them a start, as WP made the semi-finals. Still, it was more clear progress from the physical lock.
2012 began spectacularly well for a confident Roux. His growing presence on the pitch led to the call from the Stormers ahead of 2012’s Super Rugby kick-off. He then started every game as Western Province won the Vodacom Cup, even scoring a try against the Lions along the way. Having turned 21, Roux was already fully developed and his reputation as an enforcer on the pitch was growing. However, the buzz around Etzebeth, almost exactly a year younger, had been growing even more rapidly. His performances for South Africa U20s at the 2011 Junior World Championship tipped the scales in his favour and he started the Super Rugby season as first-choice.
With Springbok giant Andries Bekker occupying the number 5 jersey and the more experienced De Kock Steenkamp being preferred as second-row cover on the bench, there has been little opportunity for Roux this season. Also, his status as a Vodacom Cup stalwart may not have helped, as that competition overlaps with the first few rounds of Super Rugby. Since the conclusion of the Vodacom cup, Roux has made two appearances off the bench for the Stormers. His Super Rugby debut came in the massive derby game against the Bulls, when he replaced Etzebeth for the last 29 minutes, helping the Stormers to a crucial 19-14 win.
Roux’s second appearance came just last weekend, when he played 12 minutes at the end of the Stormers’ 27-17 win over the Lions. With Etzebeth feeling the effects of his first international test series with South Africa, Roux will be hoping that more Super Rugby action is coming his way in the final rounds. His contract with the Stormers comes to an end with the conclusion of the Super Rugby competition. The Stormers are currently top of the South African conference and have every chance of making the final on the 4th of August.
Roux’s decision to join Leinster on a one-year deal has been met with a mixed response in South Africa. With Bekker, Etzebeth, Steenkamp and Rynhardt Elstadt ahead of him in the Stormers depth chart at lock, he has little chance of playing regular Super Rugby. At Leinster, his competition will be Leo Cullen, Devin Toner and Tom Denton. No offence to those players, but it’s relatively weaker competition for the 21-year-old. It’s a one-year deal and the view in SA is that Roux is coming to Ireland to pick up some experience before returning home.
That’s exactly what a one-year deal suggests. For me, it’s a little less clear cut than that. The IRFU have enticed this brute of a second-row over to Ireland. If next season goes well, and Roux proves a success, they’ll be keen re-sign him. If he has enjoyed the year and settled well, Roux will be tempted to stay. Never mind the pecking order at the Stormers, for South Africa the likes of Juandre Kruger and Flip van der Merwe mean Roux is even further from recognition. This is not a guy who has played underage rugby for South Africa. He’s not somebody like CJ Stander, who has always been marked out as a probable Springbok.
While playing Super Rugby is obviously a dream for any young South African player, Roux is not a boyhood Stormers supporter. His loyalty to the franchise may not be set in stone. While South Africa have depth at lock, Ireland aren’t quite at the same level. Whether or not Roux should even be considered as a potential Irish international, when the likes of Ian Nagle, Dave Foley and Mark Flanagan have yet to break into their provincial sides’ XVs, is a debate for another time. This discussion may become redundant if Roux arranges a return to South Africa before he even leaves.
Leinster have got themselves a big, strong, mean, tighthead lock who has shown great determination so far in his career. Despite only being 21, he looks like a potential replacement for Brad Thorn in the enforcer role. If anyone knows more about this guy, please share your knowledge by leaving a comment!
*Roux is on the bench for the Stormers game against the Cheetahs on Saturday at 2.00pm Irish time. I don’t think Sky Sports are showing the game, so First Row are usually good for a link, just check there on Saturday.