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Rugby | Springboks

Louw excited about back-row fit

Springbok forwards coach Matt Proudfoot is in agreement with the general consensus that the balance of the back row will be one of the key focal points of the home team’s performance in Saturday’s opening Rugby Championship clash with Argentina at Jonnson King’s Park.

The return to the mix of the experienced England based Francois Louw and last year’s initial Bok captain Warren Whiteley has partially off-set the loss of Duane Vermeulen, who was the glue around which the Boks held themselves together in the series win over England in June. The No 8 is missing the Rugby Championship because of Japanese club commitments.

While Louw and Whiteley are good players, their selection means a change to the Bok back-row balance, with Louw bringing the traditional ball scavenging and breakdown presence to the openside role while Whiteley is a more rangy, attacking No 8 than Vermeulen, who was a formidable influence playing to the ball against England.

This means a shift in roles for skipper Siya Kolisi, who wore the No 6 in June but will now wear the No 7 that is recognised as the blindside flanker’s jersey in South Africa (it is the opposite in the rest of the world). Louw believes it is a role perhaps better suited to Kolisi than the openside designation he filled in June.

Listening to Louw speak at a press conference in Umhlanga Rocks on Tuesday, it is clear he is excited about the balance of the back row unit that will play against Argentina on Saturday.

“Having played with Siya before, I know he can be immensely physical,” said the former Stormers flanker who made his debut for the Boks as long ago as 2010.

“We play quite a different sort of game. Personally, I think he is more of a ball carrier, but he’s also got pace and a big presence on defence. I am more breakdown-focused and tend to play a bit tighter.

“As far as Warren is concerned, you could say he is a back trapped in a forward’s body, in the sense that he links between the forwards and the backs really well, and he’s good in the outside channels and really gets all over the field. He boasts an immense work rate and pitches every time to give an 80-minute performance.”

The ability for all three loose-forwards to do that on Saturday, and to blend into a cohesive unit, will go a long way towards easing one of the biggest remaining Bok headaches at forward. What is the best loose-forward combination? The jury is still out, and probably will be until Vermeulen is back in the mix and the other options, such as newcomer Marco van Staden, have been tried. But Proudfoot for one is excited about what Saturday’s unit can deliver.

“It is a vital combination to get right, you need to have the balance of physicality and the ability to go wide and it will be a focal point of interest on Saturday,” said Proudfoot.

“Loose forwards have increased roles in the modern game, they have to run like backs and create width, and the good thing is that we have guys, both in the starting combination and in the rest of the group, with different skill sets who are quite versatile and can adapt. I’m looking forward to seeing how this combination performs. I am quite excited about it.”

The former Scotland international, who coached Louw when he was a young player at the Stormers, has long held the man they call Flo in high regard.

“Flo was incredible on the last end of year tour when he came in. He’s got the skills of a fetcher, but creates quick ball from the first breakdown and interlinks with the backs. There is a lot more to him than just strength and power. He is an intelligent player who makes the right decisions. That is one of the things that impresses me most about him.

“He is also one of those older more experienced players who has got to the stage of his career when it is not just about himself. He wants to serve the team and help the players around him. Being based overseas and having played international rugby for several years he has brought in an incredible amount of knowledge to the team. He doesn’t just want to achieve for himself but to improve the entire environment.”

Louw, due to his club commitments, was in and out of the Bok team during the Allister Coetzee era, and his arrival in Durban to join the camp has been his first exposure to the new era under Erasmus, who coached him at the Stormers when he was just 21.

“It is clear when you come in that there is a lot of underlying energy driving the squad currently and a good thing was clearly started in the England series. There is also a keen competition for places. It is an environment that is exciting for a player coming in,” he said.


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