Boks bank on Louw at the breakdown
Flank Francois Louw was one of two changes in the South Africa team named to take on New Zealand in a Rugby Championship clash in Dunedin on Saturday and Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said that the All Blacks’ strength at the breakdown had necessitated the need for a specialist opensider.
Lock Flip van der Merwe was the other change, coming in for the suspended Eben Etzebeth, but the inclusion of Louw, who replaced the in-form Marcell Coetzee, who drops to the bench, was the biggest surprise when Meyer announced the team in Auckland on Wednesday.
However, Meyer said that Louw’s inclusion reflected less on Coetzee and more on what New Zealand would bring to the test.
“I think Marcell is playing great rugby. He has been the guy with the highest work-rate for most of the games this year,” Meyer told a news conference.
“I just felt that New Zealand is probably the best team in the world at contesting at the breakdown. They don’t just have Richie McCaw, they have a few other guys who are really good at contesting the breakdown. We decided to go with Francois because he is a specialist openside flank. (No 8) Duane Vermeulen is also a guy who is quite good on the floor so we are well balanced there. Marcell will get game time but it is a horses for courses approach,” he added.
Louw was not part of Meyer’s plans for the three-test series against England and the first two Rugby Championship matches against Argentina.
However, he was called up for the tour of Australia and New Zealand and caught Meyer’s eye during the 20 minutes he played off the bench during the Springboks 26-19 loss to the Wallabies last weekend.
“I’ve been impressed with him. I thought he was good against Australia as well for the 20 minutes after he came on. He brings more experience as well. It is the ultimate challenge playing New Zealand in New Zealand so an extra bit of experience will definitely help,” said Meyer.
The All Blacks are only set to name their team for the Dunedin match on Thursday but Meyer was under no illusions as the test his pack of fowards will face against a team which is unbeaten this year.
“Even with an experienced pack it is a challenge to play New Zealand. It is the ultimate challenge for any player, especially a Springbok, to play New Zealand in New Zealand. We are excited about it. I know people don’t give us a chance but I believe that this team is growing but we will definitely have to step up on Saturday. It will be a huge challenge for the pack but I have confidence in them,” he explained.
Meyer still has injury concerns around tighthead props Jannie du Plessis (hamstring) and Pat Cilliers (elbow). Du Plessis has been named in the starting XV but he did not train on Wednesday while Cilliers did.
Meyer said that he could not risk taking two players into the test who might not be 100 per cent fit so a final call will be made on Du Plessis on Friday.
Meyer also said that captain and centre Jean de Villiers and left wing Francois Hougaard were feeling the effects of a long season with both players suffering from a few bumps and bruises but that both men would play on Saturday.
: 15-Zane Kirchner, 14-Bryan Habana, 13-Jean de Villiers (capt), 12-Frans Steyn, 11-Francois Hougaard, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Willem Alberts, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Juandre Kruger, 4-Flip van der Merwe, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Andries Strauss, 1-Tendai Mtwarira.
Replacements: 16-Tiaan Liebenberg, 17-Dean Greyling, 18-Andries Bekker, 19-Marcell Coetzee, 20-Johan Goosen, 21-Juan de Jongh, 22-Pat Lambie.