Outgoing Test veterans Francois Louw and Schalk Brits will be missed by the Boks, writes Simnikiwe Xabanisa in the latest SA Rugby magazine.
This time last year, every rugby hack who’d ever questioned why Rassie Erasmus was given a six-year tenure as SA Rugby’s director of rugby and the responsibility of being Springbok head coach was also asking why Schalk Brits and Francois Louw were in the mix.
At the time, the complaints seemed justified. The 37-year-old Brits had been plucked from a well-earned retirement to play what can only be called a cheerleader role in Erasmus’ team, while the performances of the man nicknamed ‘Flo’ were a bit on the, well, flou side.
The feeling around Brits, who in total probably played 40 minutes of rugby for the Boks the whole year, was that as long as Bismarck du Plessis was still out there playing with the all-encompassing anger of a man with a chip on his shoulder, and meting out rough justice to unsuspecting French opposition, there was always a better alternative for the third hooker spot behind Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx.
The case against Louw also seemed simple enough. He’d looked a full yard off the pace throughout the international season, an accusation which appeared to be vindicated by the fact his English club side, Bath, began making furtive glances at the then 33-year-old flank’s contract with a view to terminating it.
In a country with no shortage of big men with nothing but bad intentions, most were mystified as to why Erasmus persisted with him. But as Brits and Louw exited the international stage after the raucous trophy tour that welcomed the world champion Boks home, it was suddenly difficult to not feel there’d be a void of sorts left by those players.
Considered too small – and possibly too skilful; a hooker who could step and pass better than most SA centres – to elbow for room in the space occupied by Bismarck and co, Brits was ignored by a succession of Springbok coaches and amassed only 15 caps in 11 years. However, his contribution in his last two seasons of Bok rugby was more valuable than the preceding nine put together.
Possessed with the solicitous charm of a Boer Soek ’n Vrou contestant, Brits had a dual role in the Bok team: keeping his teammates’ spirits high and and lending his likeable demeanour to the team as a whole.
It’s a role he played with uncanny, not to mention effervescent, aplomb. He made friends with referees (easier when you’re about the same age) and opponents alike, and his ever-smiling face replaced the dour one which had come to represent the Boks.
With respect to the ultra-competitive, scowling Du Plessis, there was no way he could have played third fiddle behind Mbonambi and Marx with the same grace.
The incredibly efficient Louw probably flew under a lot of people’s radar, but the fact he successfully made the tough transition from a blindside flank at the Stormers to an opensider at Bath suggests he should have been given a bit more respect.
Louw probably benefited from teams needing more hybrid flanks, as opposed to pure fetchers like Heinrich Brussow, but he could always be counted on to make a crucial steal or force a breakdown penalty when his team needed it most (remember the semi-final against Wales?).
When it looked as though his club career, let alone his place in the Bok squad, was hanging by a thread – with what used to be his starting position long usurped by the explosive Siya Kolisi – Louw didn’t whinge about it, he just got to work and, in the process, allowed himself the greatest send-off of them all.
We’re all still hungover from celebrating the Boks’ unexpected World Cup win, but when the fog clears we’ll still miss old Flo and Schalk.
Photo: Juan Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images