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'I've spent a third of my life in Ireland, we're so happy having a place to call home'

These are exciting times on and off the pitch for Connacht and Ireland lock Quinn Roux.

IN THE CONNACHT changing room at the Sportsground last December, Quinn Roux got an emotional surprise before his 100th cap for the province.

The western province’s head coach Andy Friend is good at marking his players’ milestones and achievements, so Ireland international Roux thought there might be a video from his family back in South Africa or something along those lines.

Instead, his wife, Rentus, came in and shared a few words of her pride before saying there was a visitor for her husband. In walked Roux’s father, Mark, who had landed in from South Africa that very morning.

A tearful hug ensued and Mark presented his son’s jersey to him in a special moment.

“I’m a bit of a sucker for stuff like that, it caught me very much off guard and I had to cover my face because I couldn’t stop the tears coming out,” says Quinn. “It was something I’ll never forget.”

Mark Roux was barely in the country for 24 hours, with Quinn heading into an Ireland training camp the morning after Connacht’s clash with Munster, but the whistle-stop trip meant the world to his 29-year-old son.

Being away from family is the hardest part of Roux and Rentus’ life in Ireland, even more so now that their family has become three with the arrival of their daughter, Rhemy Rose, five months ago yesterday.

While Roux hopes that his parents will see him play for Ireland in person for the first time at some point in the future, having them meet his daughter is most important of all.

“That’s the one thing living abroad so far away from South Africa, it’s the one big sacrifice you make – not seeing your family,” says Roux.

“I can’t remember being at home for two consecutive weeks for the last 12 years because I moved down to Cape Town after school.

“You make that decision every time you re-sign a contract because I will probably see my parents once or twice this year and they haven’t seen the new baby yet, although obviously, Covid has been a big part of it.

“That’s the hard thing about living abroad but that’s the sacrifice you have to make if you want to be successful and you have to build your own future.”

Roux joined Joe Schmidt’s Leinster in 2012 and then moved to Connacht two years later, initially on loan. Schmidt gave him his Ireland debut against South Africa in 2016 and Roux is very determined to add to the 12 caps he has won so far.

quinn-roux Roux has developed into a key man for Connacht. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I’ve spent a third of my life in Ireland now, it’s almost been 10 years,” says Roux, who became an Irish citizen last year and is the proud holder of a passport bearing the harp.

“It has gone so quickly, but we’re so happy having a place to call home.”

As the 100 caps underline, Roux certainly has settled in well with Connacht and he is now a key man and a real leader in Friend’s squad.

He captained the province for the first time in January 2019 and though he had essentially no previous experience of doing so in his career, has greatly enjoyed growing into a leadership role.

“I speak my mind sometimes, I say what I feel and I think people respect that. If I feel something needs to be done, I say it. Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m not but I want to have that voice in the team.”

Roux has developed as a rugby player too, particularly around the lineout, which he began learning how to call around four years ago. This is a transformation that can’t be underestimated, given the complexities involved in running an effective lineout.

Other locks have tried and failed, while some haven’t tried at all. Roux says he had “absolute shockers” the first few times he called for Connacht in games but he has learned with forward coach Jimmy Duffy’s guidance and his passion for this area is very clear.

“It’s such a big part of the game and delivering a dominant platform for your backs to attack off is so important,” says Roux. “It’s a big responsibility and I started enjoying that, analysing how opposition teams defend lineouts, and how we can defend and disrupt them.

“In Galway, the biggest thing can be the weather because it’s hard to call a lineout when the wind is blasting and defenders set up at the front and middle, trying to make you go to the back. That’s where your drill and confidence in your hooker and team-mates come in. You have to back your own drill and make the best out of the situation.

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frank-murphy-and-quinn-roux Roux has developed into a leader for Connacht. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“When the weather’s not in play, it’s about manipulating the opposition. Some teams defend in zones and they guess where you’re going to go, other teams mirror. It’s about the speed on the ground, the speed into the air, and the flight of the ball, all those small things come together to make a lineout tick.”

Roux’s ball-handling skills have improved vastly since he first arrived in Ireland too, given the demands from Pat Lam and now Friend on their players in this area, but his longstanding strengths remain in place.

Schmidt always valued what Roux brings at ruck time and also to a scrum, and the big lock sounds enthusiastic as he discusses that set-piece. 

“I love it, man. I take real pride in a tighthead prop wanting me to scrum behind him. I’ve enjoyed that since I was an U19 player in Western Province.

“You saw last weekend [in Leinster v Saracens] and in the World Cup final the importance of a dominant scrum. It can win or lose you games.

“Being there isn’t pretty and people don’t look for it and say, ‘Look how well that guy is scrummaging behind the tighthead’ but as long as the tighthead wants you there, that’s something I really enjoy.

“Size helps a lot but it’s having that connection with the guy in front of you and the guy beside you, and just trying to stay in the fight for as long as possible, making the tighthead confident that you won’t be moving so he won’t be moving, can adjust his shape and be more technical in the front row. I have to push as hard as I can.”

Roux has had a torrid time with injuries over the past couple of seasons. He was struck down by a virus for several months coming towards the conclusion of the 2018/19 campaign and struggled to shake it as Schmidt moved towards selecting his 2019 World Cup squad.

irelands-quinn-roux Roux is determined to add to his 12 Ireland caps. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“When that was all over, I was delighted really because I had been so anxious about trying to make the World Cup squad and the pressure was a bit too much,” says Roux.

“When I didn’t make the squad, I had just so much pressure on myself and when it didn’t happen, a lot of weight lifted from my shoulders and I could get my mind right, which was the main thing that was holding me back at that stage.”

Roux broke his thumb during 100th cap game against Munster – ruling him out of the 2020 Six Nations – and then lockdown meant he hadn’t played for eight months until Connacht’s Pro14 clash with the southern province four weekends ago.

Thankfully, Roux feels he’s in a strong space mentally and physically now and having featured in yesterday’s pre-season game against Munster in Galway, is excited about the start of the 2020/21 season as Connacht target Pro14 and Champions Cup play-off spots.

He praises Friend for the confidence he gives Connacht’s players to back themselves, while Roux also believes the westerners have “a serious squad” with more depth thanks to the young players coming through.

Aware that he has very little time to make a statement to Andy Farrell given that Test rugby starts up again next month, Roux is hopeful of avoiding any more setbacks and says “I’d love to be back in the Ireland mix.”

Roux has trimmed down slightly from 120kg to 117kg and is feeling in the best nick of his career.

“With the new breakdown interpretations, you need the destructive cleanout but you also need to be there sooner because the refereeing of it means that once the opposition player has their hands on the ball, it’s a turnover, so it’s about getting there earlier now,” he explains.

sean-obrien-ultan-dillane-quinn-roux-gavin-thornbury-cillian-gallagher-paul-boyle-head-coach-andy-friend-colby-faingaa-jarrad-butler-peter-robb-and-caolin-blade Roux is enjoying the Connacht culture under Andy Friend. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

So there’s plenty for Roux to achieve on the pitch in the coming months and years, while he has his hands full off it too with the joys of being a father.

“It was very lucky that we’ve had all this time together, she was born right at the start of lockdown so I wouldn’t have had that opportunity to have all this time with her if I was playing,” says Roux.

“We don’t have our family here, so it was helpful to have me around the house all the time so my wife wasn’t on her own.

“I’m loving it. It’s very rewarding already and puts a lot of things into perspective and just shows that rugby isn’t always the most important thing in life.

“Family has to come first now. I’m enjoying it so much and she has given me an extra reason to play well and be successful.”

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Murray Kinsella

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