Francois Louw: A career in pictures

The World Cup proved to be a triumphant Test swansong for Francois Louw, who looks back on his career.

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‘I made my debut for the Stormers in 2008, the year after my senior debut for Western Province. This was my first taste of real international rugby, playing against the Highlanders. I enjoyed every moment of it, playing with my best mates. This is at Newlands, my home ground. It’s special to
run out there because my grandfather Jan Pickard played a big role in Western Province rugby in the 1980s; he was president of the union and one of the stands is named after him. You dream of becoming a professional player and suddenly you find yourself there. It’s quite a surreal moment; you’re still a young man and just taking it stride by stride.’


‘This is the official capping ceremony for RWC 2011 that was live on TV [below]. There’s an interesting story with regard to my inclusion. I had just signed with Bath and was initially included in the Tri-Nations squad, but then didn’t make the final cut. I was in limbo, not having a club in South Africa. I phoned the coach, Peter de Villiers, and said if I’m not going to be involved with South Africa, I’ve got to get to Bath for their pre-season. He said, “Go, go, you must play and stay rugby fit.” I got to the UK, did one week of pre- season, then got a call from the team manager saying, “Mr Louw, you’ve been included in the Rugby World Cup squad, your attendance is expected at so-and-so hotel in Johannesburg on Monday, flights are booked for Sunday evening.’’ So I joined the boys three weeks late for their RWC camp and next thing I was on the plane to New Zealand. I was fifth choice, but from week two we had loads of injuries, so I played every game to the end. Unfortunately that was the quarters where we lost to Australia.’


‘I’m in my ninth season at Bath. I came over at 25 with seven Test caps and got 69 more while at Bath. So it’s where I’ve vastly developed as a player. Back then South African players saw Europe as a final destination to play a season and hang your boots up after that. I’d just played in a Super Rugby final for the aStormers in 2010, but wanted to experience something new. I took a risk and it’s paid off massively – the best decision I ever made from a career perspective. From a life perspective, living in Bath, moving with my girlfriend at the time, who is now amy wife and mother to my children, we’ve had a fantastic journey. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it, especially the big derby games, as this photo against Gloucester represents. It’s Michael Claassens coming over the player on the floor.’


‘Playing for the Barbarians is something I never thought I’d have the privilege of doing. We faced England, Wales and Ireland in 2012. I didn’t play against England but got Man of the Match in the others. Soon after was Heyneke Meyer’s first term as South Africa coach, England came and played three Tests but I wasn’t involved. I contacted South Africa to say, “Look, I’m still available. Is there any interest?” I referenced those games for the Barbarians and they impressed Heyneke, and a week later I was on a plane to Australia to join the guys for the second half of the Rugby Championship.’


‘Before this game we watched a video of a previous time that Bath played Leicester, when we hung in there, never giving up. Butch James had played No 10 for Bath and we kept pushing and pushing until eventually Butch got through to score the winning try and did a really outrageous dive. The same scenario panned out in this game; we were trailing, kept pushing and pushing and then in the last few minutes I got a linebreak on the edge and ran through to score the winning try. That image of Butch went through my mind, so I tried to copy his ludicrous dive, although I think he pulled it off with a bit more finesse. Thank goodness I didn’t injure myself.’


‘The 2015 World Cup kicked off on a negative note with our loss to Japan but it reignited us. Every match became a knockout game and we had determination and focus. The quarter-final against Wales was a fight to the very end. I’m looking at this photo with a smug smile, running away from my Bath teammate Jamie Roberts. We were trailing towards the end, then a scrum turned the wronga way, Duane Vermeulen picked the short side, got caught up with a back rower, spun round, flicked the ball away and Fourie du Preez scored the winning try in the corner.
Two individuals stepping up in a moment of need and executed a fantastic bit of rugby.’


‘The Premiership final, Bath vs Saracens. This was my third or fourth final including Currie Cup and Super Rugby, and to not win again [16-28] was very disappointing. In fact, the last Rugby Championship was the first professional trophy I’d ever won and then I won the World Cup the same year too! The Prem is close to my heart and that year with Bath was fantastic; we had an unbelievable squad and to play at Twickenham is always special. That’s Stuart Hooper and Paul James lifting me [below]. I’m not the greatest lineout option so it was fantastic to be called on and to get in front of Maro Itoje. I’m happy with that! I look back with fond memories on a great season, but with sadness that we couldn’t go all the way.’


‘I met Sarah in 2009, so she was there throughout my 10-year Springbok career. We got married in 2013. She came to Japan for two pool matches, then went back to Bath; we’ve got two kids, Lucy [five] and Thomas [nearly three], and she was holding the fort. The girls don’t get enough credit; she put me in a position where I felt comfortable to be away from my children for 10 weeks and give my all at a World Cup. She almost didn’t come to the final, but it’s the best decision we ever made. They said ladies weren’t allowed on the pitch post-match, but we wangled it and next thing I knew she was on the field. We’d decided that wherever we got to in the World Cup, that would be my final game for South Africa. To be in the final, to play in the final, to win the final and to have her with me sharing that moment was of great significance to us both.’


‘I was backup back rower at RWC 2019, a position I accepted fully. On the bench we didn’t really see ourselves as backups but as a group of eight players to enforce. We were called the ‘Bomb Squad’, a term that developed in 2018 when we beat the All Blacks in Wellington. A few of us were on the bench, I said to the guys, “We’re the bomb squad, we’ve got to bring it.” And it kind of stuck. When we played Japan at RWC 2019, there were dark images in our minds of our defeat to them in 2015. We made sure we’d never be found wanting again and that was our attitude at the World Cup – to prepare as intently and as obsessively possible, regardless of who we were playing. Our preparation, our attitude, our work rate was the same every week. We’re a big team physically and that’s how our gameplan is shaped: set piece, physical, direct. Japan want a more expansive game, so it was a clash of styles and fortunately we were the better team on the day.’ 


‘It was surreal to witness the joy and excitement in South Africa after our World Cup win. Being in Japan for nine weeks, we hadn’t quite realised the backing we had of our nation. We did six cities in five days; a full-day bus tour, flight in the evening, on to the next city. This photo is in Cape Town, my home city, Siya Kolisi’s home city, and it’s fantastic to be up the front there alongside our captain, celebrating with the fans. We had a big police escort trying to stop fans from jumping on the bus! Next to me is Anru Vermeulen, Duane’s little boy. It was a very inclusive environment, just as we had throughout the RWC when at any stage a player or management member could have his family with them. Families were invited to join us every step of the way.’

Words: Alan Pearey