Cardiff - Richie Gray’s knowledge of rugby as it is played in the United Kingdom will be a massive help to the Springboks on their forthcoming three match tour, according to the touring team’s breakdown specialist, Francois Louw.
According to the supersport.com website, the former Western Province and Stormers flanker campaigns in the northern hemisphere these days, and reckons the move to England club Bath has equipped him with breakdown skills he may not otherwise have had.
But he is convinced that in the short time that Gray, a Scot, has been working with the Boks, a massive improvement has already been in evidence.
"He really has been great for us," said Louw in a break in the build-up to Saturday’s big test against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
"He brings different philosophies to what we are used to in the approach to the breakdown and as a Scot he is very tuned into the way the guys over here approach that aspect of the game.
"What has been a big help I think for most of the guys in the Bok squad is the perspective he has brought into the way they play over here.
"He has worked out specific drills to develop the guys and allround he has been a great addition to the management."
Gray was added to the Bok group as an assistant specialising in breakdown skills by coach Heyneke Meyer shortly before the first Rugby Championship match against Argentina in Johannesburg in August.
He is contracted until the end of the year after Meyer sent out an SOS for help in an area which he believed was in great need of improvement if the Boks hope to be successful.
"There are between 120 and 160 rucks in every game and last year we identified it as an area that we can improve on vastly," said Meyer at the time of Gray’s appointment.
The Boks appeared to take a step backwards in the breakdown department in the final Rugby Championship match against the All Blacks, but Louw, together with No 8 Duane Vermeulen and hooker Bismarck du Plessis, was the spearhead of a much improved showing from the Boks generally during the southern hemisphere season.
As it turns out, it may be helpful to the Boks that Louw is based overseas.
"I wouldn’t say that it requires different skills, but I think it is fair to say that in the past the northern hemisphere referees have allowed the breakdowns to develop a lot more than is the case in the southern hemisphere," said Louw.
"The breakdown is more of a contest over here, and it is allowed to be, particularly in the Premiership, where teams like to counter-ruck.
"The breakdown is always a massive element as if you don’t go well there it robs you of any kind of platform to work off on attack.
"I thought in the Rugby Championship we did well as a team.
"I thought we started to make the correct decisions, particularly when it came to defence, when it is particularly crucial that you know when to commit to the breakdown and when not to.
"But I think there is still work to be done and we are going to have to sharpen up on that sphere of our game even more now that we are in the northern hemisphere."