Cape Town – Stalwart open-side flank Francois Louw has found something much closer to his optimum form at an excellent juncture for the Springboks.
The 31-year-old produced probably his finest personal showing of the Test season as the Boks -- warts and all as a combination -- eked out an 18-10 victory over Australia in the Castle Rugby Championship at Loftus on Saturday.
Louw has been slowly gathering a head of steam in the tournament, following sub-standard displays as chief pilferer in the first two games against Argentina and hardly having set the world alight in the earlier Ireland series, either.
Significantly, perhaps, he has been increasingly more prominent in three encounters thus far (two Australia, one New Zealand) against the other members of the southern hemisphere’s established “big three” powers.
On Saturday, Louw was invaluable at close quarters, albeit greatly assisted – another heart-warming development – by the similarly frenzied work-rate at the breakdown of captain and hooker Adriaan Strauss.
The pair crucially slowed down plenty of Wallaby ball (importantly in a game where the visitors had a worrisome amount of territorial and possession command) and also engineered some priceless, top-drawer poaches at times.
Louw now seems a much surer, ongoing ticket to the No 6 jersey for the three end-of-year Tests away to England, Italy and Wales respectively.
He was always going to be an attractive customer in playing style and physique anyway for those challenges, likely to be on soft, slower pitches and perhaps in grim weather conditions where expansive rugby can be far from the ideal recipe for success and gains are made in modest, hard-grafted yards.
Throw in the fact that the robust former Stormers/WP player possesses rich experience of European rugby, having been on English Premiership club Bath’s books since 2011, and his retention as open-sider seems pretty assured for the remainder of the Bok year.
Yes, there is a mounting lobby screaming for a bigger opportunity for the more mobile, hot-stepping Lions tearaway Jaco Kriel as the Springboks’ No 6, but you have to strongly suspect that, after six appearances as a substitute thus far in 2016, “impact” will remain his best hope – especially in the red-letter Test against England at Twickenham where things could be notably uncompromising.
If Bok coach Allister Coetzee is, rather unexpectedly, anticipating Kriel earning a start or two on the northern pilgrimage, then the 114kg Louw should come firmly into the picture anyway as a blindside option ahead of Oupa Mohoje.
The last-named player has blown hot and cold in recent Bok games, producing some very sterling work on defence, but not yet showing any special relish as a ball-carrier and general body-on-the-line factor in close-quarters combat – often a key consideration in European conditions.
It is especially important that a Bok No 7 is relentlessly physically committed, given the current balance of the loose trio with the rangy Warren Whiteley as eighth-man.
However he is deployed, though, Louw (51 caps, including 14 of them in northern climes) looks a re-established, vital element of the Springbok arsenal for November …
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