Wilco’s warning: Altitude always gets you

Wilco Louw has warned Leinster that any attempts to circumvent the impact of altitude won’t work as the Vodacom Bulls brace for their URC semi-final clash in Pretoria. DYLAN JACK reports.

The Irish giants brushed aside Ulster in Dublin last week to punch their ticket to a URC semi-final in the Republic, where Leo Cullen’s charges tackle a high-flying Bulls outfit at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.

It will be the first time that Leinster will travel at full strength to South Africa, having previously rested their large contingent of Ireland internationals to focus on the Champions Cup.

With Ireland having previously toured South Africa in 2016, many of Leinster’s headliners have not faced the challenge of playing at altitude in a few years.

Northern hemisphere sides have made a habit of slowing the game down and extending stoppages to halt the impact of the Highveld, but experienced Bulls tighthead Louw fired a warning shot at Leinster on Tuesday afternoon.

“To get altitude to work at its best is to play a high-tempo game and get them to run a lot,” Louw said.

“Teams like Munster have come and brought the tempo down quite a bit. It doesn’t matter how slow you make it, the effects of altitude will get you anyway. Rugby is 80 minutes and sometimes longer.

“They are getting smart, someone during a break is sitting down getting medical attention. Sometimes there is something wrong that needs attention.

“But it goes both ways. When they rest, we rest as well. Hopefully we can get a nice tempo. To play a good brand of entertaining rugby, the ball needs to be in play. If you make it slow, you still need to run and you still have to scrum. So the impact of altitude will still be there.

“They are a well-coached team and they are very fit. So they won’t go away. It will be an interesting test for all of us. It will be a tough one.”

With no fewer than 14 Ireland internationals set to start for Leinster on Saturday, Louw said Saturday’s clash has taken on the feeling of a Test match.

“The URC is such a healthy competition, there are no easy games. Most weekends feel like a Test,” Louw said.

“It is a big game, like any other playoff. It’s a good challenge for us and it’s nice to measure yourself against players who have been playing quality international games.

“We aren’t a young pack, but we are still getting to know each other. There are a few new faces, but we’ve grown a lot as a team and a pack.

“It’s definitely going to be a tough battle this weekend, but we are looking forward to it and it’s good to have this chance to measure ourselves against some of the world’s best.”

Louw, who has formed one of the season’s most effective scrums alongside Johan Grobbelaar and Gerhard Steenekamp, is looking forward to the challenge of facing Leinster’s all-Ireland front row of Andrew Porter, Dan Sheehan and Tadhg Furlong.

“They are one of the most experienced because they have played a lot of games together, so they are possibly one of the tougher front rows.

“But scrumming against Ox, Vincent and Bongi is also tough. So I think we’ve had some good prep from playing against them. It will be good to see how we can scrum and maul against a quality side.”

With the Bulls progressing to the URC semi-finals, Louw has missed the chance to be part of the Springboks squad preparing for the first Test of the year against Wales at Twickenham.

However, the 29-year-old, who last donned the green and gold in 2021, hopes to prove his worth of a recall by pushing the Bulls into the final.

“For now the focus is on the blue jersey and to play the best rugby that I possibly can,” Louw said.

“If it happens, I would be incredibly excited. It’s a massive honour and a privilege to play for your country.

“The focus is on Leinster this weekend and to play my best rugby for the Bulls.”

Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images

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