Cape Town - The constantly explosive, impactful Springbok substitutes in key matches at RWC 2019 were dubbed the “bomb squad” ... and you would be entitled to deem Francois Louw their own commander.
Also the man to have replaced inspiring Bok captain Siya Kolisi after a busy shift in the 64th minute of the Yokohama final, “Flo” was, after all, the most seasoned in age terms of all the fairly staple bench occupants ... at 34, eclipsing even the 2007 prior Webb Ellis Cup winner, Frans Steyn, by a couple of years.
Louw has confirmed he steps down from the Test arena after a three-tournament World Cup career that rose to a fitting crescendo for him: eliminated quarter-finalist in 2011, ousted semi-finalist in 2015, and eventually gold-medal winner following the showpiece itself at the unforgettable 2019 event.
That he was not a starter at the business end of the tournament - and a fair bit before it under the Rassie Erasmus coaching tenure, in truth - will not matter a great deal to him: South Africa’s most critical wins in Japan were quite genuinely chiselled out by 23 men, not 15, as intensity near-unfailingly didn’t dip a single notch (and would often sometimes even lift noticeably) as the subs were infused.
What made Louw an especially appealing prospect on the Bok splinters, too, was his indisputable versatility, as he could boast proven proficiency in both flank berths and was becoming a more and more assured option in the eighth-man post, into the bargain.
While his prime career credentials have come in the open-side, fetcher-geared position, he had largely begun his first-class rise as a No 7 (a restless, kamikaze-like Schalk Burger in his younger days laying chief claim for the Stormers/Western Province “six” berth).
Louw, after all, has always offered perfect physical credentials for the blind side as well, given his 1.90m and some 114kg frame: he has been a wonderful hybrid.
You do wonder if Louw, a loyal servant of Bath in the English Premiership since 2011 - he will have been looked after well there, in several respects – gave momentary thought to pressing on in Bok colours for two more years, to what would have been his first crack at a British and Irish Lions series.
He had, after all, debuted for the Boks in 2010, a year after the 2-1 triumph over the 2009 Lions.
But he also departs at a fitting, very-pinnacle-of-the-world juncture; no beef about that.
His mental calmness and straight-from-the-blocks industry as a game-finisher were precious elements of the victorious Bok push in the knockout phase of the World Cup.
The grandson of Jan Pickard, late former Bok lock and an iconic WP president in their 1980s Currie Cup heyday, Louw can also reflect, though, on plenty of “outset” appearances in Bok colours: he began as many as 58 of his 76 Tests (so a healthy 76.31 percent) and ended with a win record of almost two thirds (63.15 percent).
He certainly stood the test of time, especially if you consider the composition of the fairly under-strength Bok XV he had debuted in ... an unusual, June UK summertime fixture against Wales at the then recently-opened Millennium Stadium when SA sneaked a 34-31 triumph.
His loosie allies that day were Dewald Potgieter, who would only start once more in a six-cap Test career, and Joe van Niekerk, making a swansong 52nd appearance after a Bok tenure that had begun in pretty distant 2001.
It is a tribute to Louw’s consistency (he was a particularly regular part of the first-team furniture in Heyneke Meyer’s often under-appreciated time in charge) that he remained at least “thereabouts” for so long.
Had Siya Kolisi not been chosen as Bok skipper, and specifically from the No 6 position that is also most suited to Louw, then the latter would almost certainly still have been a much more regular starting SA presence to this day.
But “bomb squad”?
Considering how Erasmus’s bench (so often with its initially contentious, 6-2 forwards v backs split) carved its own little place in rugby folklore at the Japan-hosted World Cup, Louis-Francois Pickard Louw will grab that status and contentedly run with it, thank you very much ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing