JON CARDINELLI writes that Francois Louw was the standout player in what was an inconsistent Springbok forward performance in Edinburgh.
Louw was influential in Dublin, making some important turnovers and contributing strongly with ball in hand. In Edinburgh, he was more dominant than competitive in that battle on the floor, effecting some crucial steals and winning several momentum-shifting penalties that allowed South Africa to remain in charge for much of the contest.
Louw was one of eight forwards operating at high level in the first half. The Bok lineout proved a great source of front-foot ball, and men like Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen and Willem Alberts ensured that the Boks breached the gain line in the subsequent phases.
Unfortunately, the Boks did not show enough patience with ball in hand. So many times they would set a terrific platform via a lineout, maul, or ground-gaining carry, only to surrender possession in the third or fourth phase. For all their dominance at the collisions, they should consider two tries a very poor return.
Where players like Louw and Adriaan Strauss really put the visitors in charge was at the breakdown. The Boks did concede a fair few penalties in this area, and again they will need to work on their attacking breakdowns in the build up to the game against England.
But in terms of defence, that is slowing the recycle of opposition ball and in some instances stealing it, the Boks produced one of their finest displays of the season at Murrayfield.
Strauss made some telling contributions, and in sense it could be said that the Boks had two fetchers on the park throughout the contest. But while Strauss did well in just several instances, Louw was omnipresent, competing strongly to slow the Scots down, a tactic that proved very successful.
Louw effected four turnovers on Saturday. The first won the Boks a penalty within Pat Lambie’s range, and the flyhalf recorded what were the Boks’ first points.
But the most influential contribution was the steal five metres from his tryline in the 34th minute. The Scots had threatened to hit back right before half-time, but Louw’s turnover allowed the Boks to negate that threat and move out of the danger zone.
It was but one in a string of contributions that won Louw the official Man of the Match award, and it was one that highlighted his value to the Boks.
Since rejoining the side in August, he has lent the Bok forwards another dimension at the breakdown. That back-row combination of Louw, Alberts and Vermeulen has hit some form, and should cause England problems at Twickenham next week.
But to do so, the loose forwards will need their tight five to deliver a more consistent showing.
The lineout was impressive to start with, but the scrum was terribly inconsistent throughout. Whether they were completely out-scrummed (which in some instances seemed to be the case), or struggled to adapt to the new engagement call, the Boks are clearly battling for synergy at this set piece. Worryingly, it is an area of the game where the English are particularly strong.
In Louw, the Boks have a player in the mould of Richie McCaw, a player who can manipulate the flow of the game through his contributions at the breakdown. However, men like Louw cannot be expected to exert this kind of influence unless their fellow forwards are performing consistently at the set pieces, collisions and breakdowns.
The Boks may have won by 11 points in Edinburgh, but there’s plenty to polish before they travel to Twickenham next Saturday.