Breakdown key in Cardiff clash
Springbok flank Francois Louw is welcoming the challenge of facing Wales captain Sam Warburton on Saturday.
Springbok flank Francois Louw is welcoming the challenge of going head-to-head with Wales captain Sam Warburton in the all-important battle of the breakdown in Cardiff on Saturday.
The Springboks kick-off their end-of-year tour against the Six Nations champions this weekend and know full well the match could come down to who bosses the breakdown.
Louw and Warburton are two of the world’s elite openside flanks who share the ability to not only play towards the ball and maintain a high workrate, but also provide go-forward with ball in hand.
Their proficiency to turn over possession and slow ball down at the tackle, however, will take centre stage at the Millennium Stadium, and in this regard, Bath-based Louw’s understanding of northern hemisphere referees’ interpretation of the breakdown laws should stand the Springboks in good stead.
Louw, though, played down his experience of playing in Europe.
"I don't know if it has given me an advantage, it has definitely been a massive learning curve for me. I have really enjoyed my rugby here [in Europe], I have learned a lot and grown as a player,” said Louw on Tuesday.
"I wouldn't say it [the breakdown] requires different skills [than in the southern hemisphere]; as we have seen in the past and at the end of last year, northern hemisphere referees like to allow the breakdown to develop and allow more of a contest there.
"I think it is a big point in northern hemisphere rugby, especially in the Premiership. Guys do compete there, they look to counter-ruck and challenge the opposition by slowing their ball down.”
Louw said the Springboks are wary of Warburton’s breakdown prowess and will aim to neutralise the young Welsh skipper.
"He is a great player, attacks the ball well and slows opposition ball down nicely, definitely a player that we are going to have to watch. He can be very effective for Wales and can be a key player for them,” said Louw.
The Springboks are also bound to be boosted by the knowledge of Scottish breakdown specialist, Richie Gray, who Louw believes has been worth his weight in gold this season.
"Richie has been great for us, a great addition to the coaching set-up, bringing in his philosophies in and around the breakdown,” he said.
“Being a Scot - a northern hemisphere guy - he is obviously attuned to the way they play over here so it has been great having him bringing a different perspective into that area.
"The guys have really caught on to him and believe in his views and the things he is saying. He has come up with some great drills and really helped the guys develop their skills at the breakdown.
"The breakdown is always a massive element for us. If you have a good platform to attack from it is only going to benefit you as a side so it is always an emphasis for us and it is going to be challenging this weekend.
"I think we are doing really well and making the right decisions, especially on defence, when to go in and when not to. On attack, you want to get in there early to prevent the opposition slowing your ball down.
"It was an emphasis for us in the Rugby Championship and I think the guys executed it well. There is still a little work to be done and I think we are going to have to show that even more over the next few games.”
Louw said he’s had little difficulty joining up with the Springbok squad from Europe in recent seasons and felt South African-based players face a similar challenge.
"I think everyone has to deal with it, the other guys went back to the Currie Cup and they are also back with the Springboks again. I think you have to disassociate yourself with the two groups but it has been quite easy, this a fantastic environment, really easy to slot back in,” he said.
Louw added that the British and Irish Lions-laden Welsh will want to make a statement on Saturday.
"I think they are a very good team, they made up the backbone of the British and Irish Lions side. I think we are going to see a lot of passion because, coming off the Six Nations and doing very well there, they are going to want to prove a point, especially against a southern hemisphere side.”