Flouw: Meyer's masterstroke
Flouw: Meyer's masterstrokeSHARE
Although much of the focus has been on the backline, the most important selection Bok coach Heyneke Meyer has made this year has been to recall Francois Louw.
Meyer's refusal to pick a specialist openside flank in his first five Tests in charge was met with much criticism, with many lamenting the fact that injury-plagued Cheetahs star Heinrich Brussow had been overlooked in favour of the more physically imposing rookie Marcell Coetzee.
While the 21-year-old Coetzee is a dynamic force who has a long international career ahead of him, his ball-carrying and fierce tackling are far more prominent features of his game than his ability to disrupt the opposition at the breakdown, which is why he has played most of his rugby for the Sharks at blindside flank.
Meyer's loose forward mantra has been to physically dominate the opposition, but after being exposed at the breakdown against England and Argentina the Bok coach responded by calling on Louw, a decision which has made the forward pack far more effective.
At 1.9 metres and 114 kg the Bath flank certainly has the physical presence to get the Boks on the front foot, but it is his partnership with former Stormers teammate Duane Vermeulen at the breakdown that has given the Boks an extra edge in their last three games.
The balance that he has offered the Springbok loose trio has seen the pack deliver dominant performances against both the Wallabies and All Blacks, and with Brussow struggling to make an impact in the Currie Cup, Louw's selection has proved to be an inspired one.
The Bok forwards have steadily gained in confidence since Louw and Vermeleun were given their first opportunity in Perth, and although debate may rage on about who the best halfbacks in the country are, there are far less issues with the make-up of the loose trio, with Coetzee offering great value as an impact player off the bench.
The defeats in Perth and Dunedin came as a result of the Boks' inability to take advantage of the platform laid up front, with most of the criticism falling on the wayward goal-kicking and the backline's impotence on attack, but there were no such problems with the performances of the relatively inexperienced forwards.
Although the focus at Loftus last week was on Johan Goosen's first start at flyhalf, it was Louw who perhaps made the biggest statement, underlining his value by winning some valuable turnovers, carrying the ball up strongly and showing off some neat handling skills.
The reality is that it does not matter who you have at flyhalf if your pack is not able to earn quality possession, and in this regard Louw and Vermeulen have added a vital element to Meyer's team which was blatantly absent in their draw with the Pumas in Argentina when he effectively picked three blindside flanks in Coetzee, Jacques Potgieter and Willem Alberts.
Meyer's policy with overseas-based players is to select them only if they are an obviously better option than all others playing in their position in South Africa, so Louw's selection was interpreted as a slap in the face for the likes of Brussow, but after his impressive return to the highest level it is tough to see any of the openside flanks around at the moment threatening his place in the team.
By Michael de Vries