JOHANNESBURG - If Springbok coach Allister Coetzee picks Francois Louw to start against the Wallabies at the Free State Stadium on Saturday, it will be the fifth different loose-trio combination to turn out for the Boks in eight Tests this season.
A key consideration for Coetzee will be whether it will be a gamble to select another new back-row combination, in a match that the Boks simply have to win.
Louw, who joined the squad from Bath earlier this week after replacing the injured Jaco Kriel (shoulder) in the squad, has all the experience having played 52 Tests and been part of the Bok set-up since 2010, he’s a leader and respected and is, according to Coetzee, in fine form. But, at 32, Louw will not be part of the long-term planning and he has not featured at all for the Boks this season.
The former Stormers man was picked as a like-for-like replacement for Kriel, but he also brings a lot more to the Bok set-up; the reason why Coetzee was keen to get him into the mix for the two home Rugby Championship Tests against Australia and New Zealand.
“Francois is fully fit, he comes into the squad after a magnificent pre-season and he’s played three games for Bath already this season... he’s ready for Test rugby,” enthused Coetzee.
“He’s been there and done it before... and he can add value to our turn-around strategy. He’s a guy who plays towards the ball, he contests on the ground and he’s not going to allow the opposition to get quick ball.”
Louw coming in though would mean a change of position for Siya Kolisi, who in all seven Bok Tests this year has worn the No 6 jersey. Kolisi is the only loose-forward picked by Coetzee this year who has started all the Boks’ games. The only other consistent name among the loose-forwards is Jean-Luc du Preez, who’s been involved in some capacity in all seven Tests.
Francois Louw signing some autographs at the Springbok open session at Shimla Park, Bloemfontein. pic.twitter.com/BZVgYO4xoH
It’s a big call for Coetzee to make this week. Louw may have the experience and he may have featured last season but he hasn’t been part of the mix at all this year, and things are quite different.
For the first two Tests, against France, Warren Whiteley, Oupa Mohoje and Kolisi packed down in the back-row, for the third Test, Whiteley and Mohoje were ruled out and Du Preez and Kriel came in, while for the two Tests against Argentina, Uzair Cassiem joined the loose-trio to partner Kriel and Kolisi. Against the Aussies in Perth, Cassiem, Kriel and Kolisi stayed together, but Kriel was ruled out for the All Blacks game through injury and Du Preez came in, again.
Kolisi and Kriel have been outstanding for the Boks throughout the season, but Coetzee has also been hugely impressed with Cassiem, and he’s likely to continue in his No 8 role until Whiteley returns, probably on the end-of-year tour to Europe.
“I’m very pleased with what Uzair has brought to the team,” said Coetzee. “He might not be the link man or have spectacular hands, but he’s got a phenomenal work-rate and does a lot of the unnoticed work. He’s not flashy, but he makes the players around him perform well. He’s a real grafter.”
Expect Louw to move straight into the Bok starting team, alongside Cassiem and Kolisi when Coetzee names his team on Thursday, with Du Preez again being used as a second-half impact player. If that was not the idea then Coetzee would not have brought Louw all the way out from England to be part of the turn-around strategy.