Springboks

Flo: ‘2nd honeymoon’ unlikely

Francois Louw (Getty Images)
Francois Louw (Getty Images)
Cape Town - Although it seems increasingly likely that several core Springbok customers will not start Sunday’s Test against Scotland at Murrayfield, anticipate staple open-side flank Francois Louw staying at his post.

You could say the honeymoon is over for the Bath-based loose forward: he was given leave by coach Heyneke Meyer to miss the South African-staged clash between these foes earlier this year while he got married.

Tellingly, perhaps, that clash at Mbombela Stadium - the Boks’ first, and less-than-satisfactory taste of international rugby in the Lowveld metropolis of Nelspruit - was marked by much home-team trauma at the breakdown, a key reason they laboured to a flattering 30-17 victory over the underdogs.

South Africa trailed 10-6 at the break then, and very soon afterwards by as much as 17-6 before they mounted a rearguard action strong enough to get them over the line in one of the least convincing of all Meyer’s games in charge thus far.

So Louw, now comfortably the primary fetcher in the current Bok team and squad as a whole, is highly unlikely to be afforded the luxury of a second successive “sit-out” against these opponents in 2013 (that was the only Bok game of the year in which he has had no involvement thus far).

If he does play, Meyer may be quietly hoping that his charges get a much better head of steam this time and he can then contemplate calling off the 28-year-old around, say, the 55- or 60-minute mark to make some allowance for the quick, six-day turnaround to the final tour fixture against France where his specialist services will again be important.

There may well be risks enough in the make-up of the Bok side to play the Scots, given that some combinations will be experimental and hitherto unproven, and South Africa can ill-afford to play second fiddle to such an extent in the turnover and “slow the ball down” stakes on the heavy Murrayfield surface as they did at Nelspruit.

Without the benefit of any other truly designated No 6 in his tour party, you would think Meyer almost certainly has to start with Louw here, even if the Bok loose trio as a whole ought to be caught less napping and disorganised than they were in the mid-year encounter.

On that occasion, the starting combo was Marcell Coetzee, rookie Arno Botha and an out-of-form Pierre Spies, and its shape was hampered soon after the start anyway when luckless Bulls prospect Botha tore knee ligaments - reserve Siya Kolisi entered the fray as early as the fourth minute and played a forceful game, albeit primarily in an upright, open-play capacity.

Meyer did not have the likes of Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen to pick from then, so even if they slightly tweak the mix for Sunday following the Wales win, at least one of that pair plus Louw ought to run out for the Boks at the outset and offer considerably less naivety at ruck-time on this occasion.

The game in the Lowveld also didn’t feature a still-recuperating Bismarck du Plessis at hooker - he got 13 late minutes off the bench, in the place of No 2 starter Adriaan Strauss - and another comforting thought several months on is that the former is back to his muscular best in all respects, including fierce involvement in ball-pinching opportunities.

Louw’s experience of grim northern winter conditions via his English club stationing could come in particularly useful on Sunday as an “Arctic chill” is being tipped for many parts of the UK over the next few days after a reportedly mild and often surprisingly sunny period.

The former Stormers/WP favourite is also under a bit of pressure to atone for his uncharacteristic burst of ill-discipline that cost him a yellow card against Wales.

The Bok team to play Scotland will be named by Meyer in Edinburgh at around 14:30 (SA time) on Thursday.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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