Springbok flank Francois Louw is determined to win his first ever club title and pick up yet another win at Twickenham in the buildup to the 2015 World Cup. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Bath will play Saracens in the Premiership final at Twickenham this Saturday. It's the biggest game in English rugby, and also a significant one for South African rugby.
Saracens are well known for their South African influence, and a number of these players, including captain and former Bok lock Alistair Hargreaves, will front at Twickenham this weekend. For Bath, Louw has been in outstanding form, and was recently named in the Premiership Team of the Year. Whether Saracens prevail or Bath take the trophy, there will be a South African winner in England's grand final.
Louw won't be wanting for motivation. Despite being a consistent performer for the Stormers and Western Province during the early days of his career, Louw never won a major title with the Cape side. Upon joining Bath in 2011, he fast became a favourite at the Rec, and his form earned him a recall to the Bok side in 2012. But for all his effort and influence, there has been no silverware of substance.
'I came close a few times with the Stormers and Western Province, but unfortunately couldn't go all the way,' Louw told SARugbymag.co.za. 'It would be nice to tick that box on Saturday. Sarries won't make it easy for us, though. They may have started the season slowly, but they've really put in some impressive showings in the past few months.'
Bath, of course, made a statement of their own with a 47-10 hammering of the Leicester Tigers in last weekend's semi-final. Louw was massive in that fixture, particularly on defence.
'It was a hell of a team performance,' he confirms. 'We had been playing well up to that point, but things are often different when there is so much at stake in a play-off. The scoreline was a bit of a surprise, but I'm happy that we played well and can go into the final with some momentum.
'The Premiership has always been huge over here, but nowadays it seems there is a lot more interest globally,' he continued. 'I'm really looking forward to the final at Twickenham. It's a fantastic stadium and I'm sure it will be a fantastic occasion.'
The Boks have not lost to England at Twickenham since 2006. The 2014 battle between the two nations ended in a 31-28 victory for the visitors, a scoreline that wasn't completely reflective of the Boks' physical dominance.
Louw missed that match as well as the other games on tour due to a neck injury. In fact, his recovery to full fitness over the past six months has been tougher than most people from South Africa may know.
'I went through a tough time last year,' Louw said. 'After the injury, I had surgery on my neck, and to be honest, I was apprehensive about getting back to rugby and into the thick of things. Thanks to the staff here at Bath, my rehabilitation went well, and slowly I was able to build myself up again.
'I missed out on playing there with the Boks last year because of my injury, but that's rugby. Fortunately, Bath have had a great season and now we have a chance to play there in the final.
'I last played there in 2012 when the Boks beat England, so I'm hoping to maintain my winning streak when I go there on Saturday. And I hope the Boks can maintain their great record there at the World Cup later this year.'
Heyneke Meyer has often praised Louw's unique breakdown skills, as well as his leadership. The fact the 29-year-old plays his club rugby in England is also viewed as an advantage whenever the Boks play in Europe. Louw has an intimate understanding of the conditions in this region, as well as the northern hemisphere referees' management styles at the breakdown.
If fit, Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen should start in the back row for South Africa at the World Cup in England. And yet, while it is a combination that has featured prominently for the Boks since late 2012, Louw isn't taking anything for granted. He aims to deliver another big performance for Bath at Twickenham this weekend to give Meyer yet another reason to select him.
'South Africa has so many impressive loose forwards. We don't have to worry about that department for the World Cup, as there are so many excellent options.
'From my point of view, that kind of competition drives me to lift my own game. Selection for the World Cup is not in my hands, so all I can do is keep pushing and remain fit and hopefully I will make the cut.'
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