Elrigh Louw and Vincent Tshituka are young players who look destined for higher honours in the future, writes ANDRE-PIERRE CRONJE.
There is something stirring on the highveld. While the eyes of the rugby public have been glued to the glitz of some exceptionally talented backline players, two prodigiously talented back-row players have quietly emerged.
The Lions’ Tshituka (22) and Bulls’ Louw (21) may have only recently burst on to the professional scene, but are already leaving an impression.
Tshituka’s route to rugby has been far from conventional. Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he was a relative latecomer to the sport. He attended Northcliff High School – a so-called ‘small’ rugby school – and did not progress to professional rugby with Craven Week honours.
His journey to professionalism, though atypical, is credit not only to his pre-eminent abilities, but also his receptiveness to training and appetite to learn. It’s not surprising he was voted the most improved player in South Africa by My Players last year.
Though born half a continent away, Tshituka is in every molecule a Lion. He seems as though he has stepped straight off the production line at the Ellis Park rugby factory, built from the moulds of the back rowers from the Ackermann golden era. The footwork and handling of Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel’s turn of pace, and Warwick Tecklenburg’s never-say-die attitude.
But Tshituka is his own man. Oozing swagger and attitude, he exhibits all the hallmarks of a confident young player. Emulating what is so good about past greats but nevertheless determined to put his own mark on the game. His ambition is voracious, and his target is clear: ‘Trying to make the Boks is everything right now, it’s why I play the game.’
If Tshituka is the archetypical Lions back rower, then Louw is a Bulls man through and through.
Built tough, in the old-fashioned sense, Louw fits hand in glove with a Bulls style of play that places tremendous importance upon winning collisions and a Trojan defence. The Bulls don’t do subtlety; for them it’s grit, gumption and power all the way. Nothing could suit Louw better.
When Louw runs into contact he doesn’t do so in half measures. The unbridled eagerness of youth combined with a clear love of collisions make him a demon on the carry. Throw in an engine that could outwork a Hilux and you have a one-man demolition crew.
Though originally Louw plied his trade with the Kings, there was always a sense that higher honours beckoned. Only a week after the Kings went into liquidation, Louw had been signed by the Bulls. Within three weeks he was promoted to the starting lineup, with Jake White sensing some serious pedigree.
Over the past eight months, Louw has solidified his position as a starter in a Bulls back row that includes four Springboks. That feat alone is testimony of his prodigious talent, but to do so at only 21 years of age proves he is something special.
Though Louw’s performances for the Bulls have been unerringly exceptional, one moment off the pitch stands out to define his calibre – when he ran straight through his captain and back-row compatriot Duane Vermeulen in training.
‘I came in, a young player, and wanted to make my mark. It was Duane standing in front of me and it was either me or him,’ muses the young Louw. It takes a certain kind of individual to take on a 50-cap World Cup-winning Springbok great in a training session, never mind run through him. Elrigh Louw stands back for no man.
Ernest Hemingway famously wrote that the effects of our vices come ‘gradually, then suddenly’. The same, however, may be said of the effects of our labours. Success comes gradually, then suddenly.
For Louw and Tshituka, their efforts will be rewarded. The extra gym sessions, the hours of analysis, the coffees with the experienced squad members just to soak up every ounce of rugby wisdom … soon it all will be worth it. Success works night shifts.
A career in green and gold is on the horizon for both these young men. Two very different players, who have walked different paths are now vying for the same honour. The looming battle between them is bound to be one of the most captivating and fiercely contested in recent memory.