'I am very happy with the decision I made to move west'
The Big Interview: Quinn Roux
Published 14/10/2016 | 02:30
Emotions ran high on the Highveld when the Irish and South African national anthems sounded on June 18.
Quinn Roux played centre stage and he struggled to hold back the tears when he locked eyes with his family in the crowd. It was a boyhood dream for the Pretoria native to play international rugby at this venue, but little did he know that it would be in a different shade of green.
When his career stalled at Leinster only a couple of seasons beforehand, Roux felt homesick and questioned his rugby future. But after he survived the injury scares, and found himself a new home on the west coast of Ireland, the accolades followed. He turns 26 on October 30, and in 2016-'17, second-row Roux is part of the reigning Pro12 champions and he is an Ireland international too.
Although he picked up a knock in Ireland camp at Carton House last week, he remains on the brink of a first Champions Cup campaign with Connacht. And after their brilliant return to form, who knows where Pat Lam's men may end up.
But there's no doubt Roux is on the crest of a wave. He is part of young Connacht squad that's full of hope and potential. And in the second-row he has the opportunity to lead this side forward.
The months of May and June came and went in a blur. And even though Roux didn't have his family to celebrate with in Edinburgh, he won't forget Connacht's first piece of silverware, and his inaugural Irish cap.
"It was massive for Connacht Rugby, coming from where they have been and getting to a final like that. How it panned out, with what happened afterwards and all the support. It was incredible to be a part of that even though I didn't play in that game, it was incredible to be involved in that whole season," says Roux.
"Looking back at it, I am very happy with the decision I made to move west. I got a better opportunity to play. That led to playing at higher honours. Connacht winning the Pro12 was massive as well. I am just really glad to be part of this team.
"When the final whistle went, everyone was on the pitch. Seeing loads of lads, like John Muldoon and Tiernan O'Halloran with their family there. It was really cool to experience the joy.
"It was different when you were not playing, but you can look from the outside and see how happy everyone is. You know the hard work they have put in and it's cool to see that. It was great to be there and be a part of that.
"Then it was unbelievable to see how many people turned up in Galway for the homecoming. When you stand at the top of the bus and look back and see thousands and thousands of supporters, it was an amazing experience and something I have never gone through before."
The former Stormers lock signed for Connacht on loan from Leinster in 2014 and made that permanent, after a string of impressive performances that season.
After the Pro12 final victory over Leinster, Roux began his preparation for a trip home to South Africa and despite missing the historic 26-20 win over the Springboks in the first Test, he was one of five changes to the Irish team for the second game in Ellis Park.
Ironically, fellow South African CJ Stander was suspended for that game - the Munster flanker and Roux were room-mates during the tour. But the Connacht man finally got his first taste of international rugby.
"I was over the moon to get the call-up in the first place. I didn't really play loads in the couple of weeks prior to it. I was very, very happy to be in that squad. I had to put my head down and do a lot of hard work just to put my hand up for selection.
"We had to do a lot of work off the field too and it was a massive step up in that sense. It was just really cool to be experiencing the new environment, and knowing you might make a trip to South Africa it was really something to look forward to.
"It worked out perfectly with me playing in the second Test which was closest to where I grew up. On the day off, I knew I was going to play on the weekend, and I spent the day with my family and my closest friends. We had a nice lunch together and it was just nice to have my family with me in the build-up to that match.
"I couldn't really hold back the tears at that stage. Singing the national anthem, looking up and I spotted my parents and my brother, everyone was there and it was an emotional experience. But all of that was out the door as soon as the kick-off came and a job needed to be done.
"There is so many things going through your head at that stage. You are not focusing on anything on the outside. It won't have an influence on you at that moment.
"Altogether it was a really good experience and unforgettable. I stayed home for a week or two after the final Test. Then I came back to pre-season and on the first day in I injured my hip and was out for about six or seven weeks."
But Roux made his recovery and despite his latest setback, he should have another huge season ahead of him in the green of Connacht and Ireland.
"I'm really looking forward to the Champions Cup. It's going to be a very difficult season with that as well. There is no game now where you can afford to rest players, it's all big games on top of each other.
"It's going to be massive for us, to try and stay fit and try and perform in all of those big games. We need to show that we can step it up another level."