Francois Louw is viewed as a like-for-like replacement for the injured Jaco Kriel, but his immediate on-field role will need to be carefully considered, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Bloemfontein.
A couple of hundred supporters braved a heavy wind in unpleasant weather conditions to watch the Springboks’ open training session at Shimla Park on Monday afternoon, with Louw also spending a fair portion of the session as a sideline observer.
As it is, Louw only joined up with the Boks on Monday morning after captaining his club side Bath in a narrow defeat to the Newcastle Falcons in the English Premiership this past weekend.
At 32 years old, Louw’s inclusion is not necessarily in keeping with one of the Boks’ foremost selection criteria to consider players with a long-term plan in mind, but he remains a player who coach Allister Coetzee believes can still add immense value to a largely inexperienced side.
Louw started in as many as nine Tests last year, and now makes a return to a Bok squad that has seen its loose-forward stocks depleted through injuries to experienced personnel such as Duane Vermeulen, Warren Whiteley and Kriel, while Marcell Coetzee does not meet the 30-cap eligibility rule for overseas-based players.
With Kriel only set to return to action next year after undergoing shoulder surgery, there may have been calls to rather include an openside flanker such as Kwagga Smith or Chris Cloete, but Coetzee insists Louw is still the man for the job at this time.
‘Francois is fully fit, he’s come through a magnificent pre-season and he’s stronger than ever before. He’s had a few really good games for Bath, and he’s playing really well.
‘He is ready to play Test match rugby, and I have no doubt that without Jaco Kriel here, he is the sort of player who can add value to our turnaround strategy for the last two games [of the Rugby Championship].
‘He brings what we may be lacking in the absence of Jaco,’ Coetzee added. ‘He plays towards the ball and will ensure we contest on the ground, and can prevent teams from feeding off quick ball. Francois is also a leader, and he’s been here and done it before.’
In an interview with the Bath Chronicle prior to his call-up last week, Louw admitted he may be ‘torn’ between club and country, but reiterated that it would always remain a ‘huge honour’ to represent the Springboks.
Coetzee said he certainly had no doubts about Louw’s enduring commitment to the national cause.
‘He’s one of those players who really wants to play for South Africa. He’s the type of guy who will phone [to chat] after a Test, and he’s excited about the new culture in the team.
‘He finds out about those small things that are really important, and it’s good to see where the loyalties lie for overseas-based players. I can say without any fear that he still wants to be a Springbok.’
However, considering Louw has only just joined up with the Boks for the first time this year, it may be a big ask for him to come straight into the starting lineup for Saturday’s penultimate Rugby Championship clash against Australia.
Yet this consideration will be juxtaposed against the fact that Louw has never really been regarded as an archetypal impact player suited to a bench role. In fact, just five of his 52 Tests have come as a substitute.
It leaves Coetzee with an interesting decision to make ahead of this weekend’s crucial encounter, with Siya Kolisi, Jean-Luc du Preez and Uzair Cassiem having primarily run in the back-row formation at Monday’s training session.
The rest of the squad has been declared fit and ready for action, although Beast Mtawarira also took a limited part in the contact aspects of Monday’s training. However, this was said to simply be part of his player management plan.
The Bok team to face the Wallabies will be named at 14:00 on Thursday.
Photo: Kim Ludbrook/BackpagePix
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