CAPE TOWN – Francois Louw has served Western Province, Stormers, Bath and Springbok rugby with aplomb.
He is one of those rare loose-forward breeds who are almost equally adept at playing in all three loose-trio positions.
In his early days, he was a prominent No 8, but then as the years went by, he developed into a fine ‘fetcher flank’ who could compete for the ball on the ground and carry strongly.
Louw was a key figure for the Stormers under Allister Coetzee, when they reached the Super Rugby final in 2010, and Bok coach Heyneke Meyer also enjoyed having the Bishops product in the national team.
Having earned 61 Test caps, Louw has seen it all on the international stage. But should he still be part of the Bok set-up at 33?
His sudden arrival in the squad on Monday – after initially being unavailable due to club commitments with Bath – was a surprise, and it got Bok fans’ tongues wagging on social media.
It was clear that his presence in Pretoria could mean only one thing: Warren Whiteley is in serious doubt to be fit for Saturday’s Test against the All Blacks at Loftus Versfeld.
Normally calling up another player if there is an injury concern would be the usual course of action, but the fact that it is Louw suggests that he could leapfrog Sikhumbuzo Notshe straight into the starting line-up for the New Zealand clash.
And that would be problematic on so many levels. Yes, coach Rassie Erasmus may argue that Louw showed that he can handle playing at No 8 against the All Blacks as he did a good job there in the corresponding fixture at Newlands last year.
But that was more of a blood-and-guts effort from the entire team as they tried to rescue some pride after the 57-0 disaster in Albany a few weeks earlier.
Notshe didn’t get much opportunity to display his strength – dancing past defenders with ball-in-hand – in his first Test start against Australia last week in Port Elizabeth.
He made as many as 10 tackles before being replaced soon after halftime, and said afterwards that by the 30th minute, the “lungs weren’t holding up anymore”, showcasing the speed of starting a Test.
But Notshe will be a stronger player for coming through that experience, and that is what all these Tests leading up to next year’s World Cup is about – growing the depth of the squad where possible.
We all know Louw can be effective at the breakdowns, but he hasn’t really stood out in the Bok games he’s played in 2018.
His best position is at openside flank, which is where captain Siya Kolisi is based at the moment.
I also know that Erasmus fancies having a fetcher at No 8, as he believes that the eighthman gets to the breakdown first from a scrum.
But the bigger picture of the World Cup should dictate that Notshe, who has five Test caps, continues as the No 8 against the All Blacks…
Great weather conditions as the boys warm up ahead of the late morning training session at Loftus. pic.twitter.com/nxWs3FVjMy