Mark Keohane: Wilco Louw’s Bok credentials soar after Newlands derby
It was supposed to be the match in which Trevor Nyakane won the right to wear the Springbok No 3 jersey in June, but in Nyakane’s injury-enforced absence it was Stormers tighthead Wilco Louw who made the most compelling statement to be the rock around which the Springbok pack gets built.
Louw was brutal at scrum time. He gave the talented Bulls loosehead Lizo Gqoboka a torrid working over, while on the loosehead Steven Kitshoff’s scrumming power and overall match contribution would have delighted Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus.
My Sport24 column of last week focused on the significance of the north versus south derby being more a Springbok trial than any Super Rugby title champion showdown, with neither of the Stormers nor Bulls good enough to win Super Rugby.
The match had all those wonderful elements associated with a national trial. It was fast, furious, physical and confrontational.
Louw and his Stormers team-mate Pieter-Steph du Toit were the biggest winners when it comes to the national squad.
The Bulls lock duo of RG Snyman and Lood de Jager have been outstanding all season, as has former Springbok captain and hooker Adriaan Strauss. The latter, given the uncertainty over Malcolm Marx’s fitness and Bismarck du Plessis’s Top 14 playoff commitments on June 2, could come out of international retirement to do a short-term job for the Springboks.
The trio are the most likely Springbok starting options, but Du Toit, who has shuffled between flank and lock gave Erasmus a reminder of his talents. He will no doubt feature in the match-23 and he will take comfort that on the day his influence overshadowed the combined efforts of De Jager and Snyman, both of whom will be in the Springbok squad.
Louw and Kitshoff would make any international coach smile. Kitshoff was good when he left to play in France but he is even better at set piece because of his overseas stint. His general play has always been exceptional and Louw, while not as dynamic as Kitshoff, is no slouch when asked to contribute outside of the scrum.
Stormers captain Siya Kolisi, in his 100th match, was also more commanding than he has been over the last month. Kolisi is a player who does seem to go up another gear when wearing the Bok jersey, but his indifferent form in matches against the Bulls (in Pretoria), Lions (in Johannesburg) and Sharks (in Durban) couldn’t be ignored.
Kolisi, at Newlands, got his fairytale win in his 100th match and more importantly the national coach would have got more comfort that Kolisi will deliver in the big matches in June.
I thought Damian de Allende was the pick of the backs and he looked every bit a Test player. If you had told me there was only one international player among the backs on display and asked me to identify who it was, I’d have gone with De Allende on performance.
It’s this kind of impact that has been an inconsistency in his game contribution in 2016 and 2017 but there has been nothing but powerful consistency in his performances in the last month.
Warrick Gelant and Handre Pollard will be in the Bok mix, but this wasn’t a match in which much went for them and it also wasn’t one in which Jesse Kriel had influence.
Stormers flyhalf Damian Willemse was electric and buzzing and every time he plays he looks more comfortable. He will play in the U20 World Championship, but like Pollard in 2014, don’t be surprised to see him promoted to the senior squad for the Rugby Championship.
The Sharks’ Sbu Nkosi and Lukhanyo Am would have reinforced their claims for Bok squad selection and Robert du Preez (flyhalf) and Andre Esterhuizen (inside centre) certainly are there or thereabouts.
The Bok bolter, given the hooker situation, could be the Sharks’ Akker van der Merwe.
The former Lions hooker, in the shadow of Malcolm Marx, moved to Durban to get more game time and whenever he has been given an opportunity he has prospered.
Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter
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