The French second-row, comprising of Bernard Le Roux and Paul Willemse, has been a stand-out combination in the Six Nations contest so far. With hulking builds and feverish work-rates, the pair has become a formidable threat to opposition teams’ cohesion. While making their mark on the lush fields of Europe, their roots are in the tip of Africa.
Paul Willemse was born in Pretoria in November, 1992. Two years after turning out for the South African Under-20 outfit, 2014 saw him make the move to France, joining club side Grenoble.
Bernard Le Roux grew up in Morreesburg, a small farming community an hour outside of Cape Town. In 2010 he was coaxed by former Springbok coach Jake White into signing a deal with now two-time Super Rugby finalists the Lions. However, the night before he was due to put pen to paper, Le Roux received an offer from Racing Metro (now Racing 92) and decided to take the leap.
The two are moulded in the traditional, burly South African forward shape; Le Roux, the slightly diminutive locking partner, stands 1.98m and weights 116kg while Paul Willemse is a towering 2.01m, weighing 135kg.
Despite their origins, both Willemse and Le Roux show undivided loyalty to Les Bleus.
“We don't like the idea of us being the South Africans who play for France. For me we are truly France's second-rows because we've been here for such a long time," said Willemse.
"I've been here since I was 21 and him [Le Roux] since he was 19. For us, we were born in South Africa but we're proud because we're France's second-rows."
Apart from sterling lineout work, the players’ industry manifests itself most significantly in tackling. Le Roux is currently the top tackler in the Six Nations competition, having contributed 55 after three rounds with an average of 18.3 per game. Willemse now sits at 5th position in this statistic with 48 tackles made thus far and an average of 16 per game.
Le Roux, turning 31 this year, now finds himself in the prime phase of the modern tight forward-battle-hardened and wily on the pitch- with the younger Willemse (27) just entering the purple patch of his career.
A rejuvenated France’s position atop the Six Nations log has come in no small way through the impressive efforts of Le Roux and Willemse. Fans can look forward to several more seasons of this marauding duo issuing stern answers to questions asked of Les Bleus’ attack and defence.