'He's the best part of 21-stone but ridiculously fit, low body fat, just an anomaly'
Sale boss Alex Sanderson hit the front-rower nail on the head the other week when he colourfully suggested: “Getting a tighthead that can scrum and run is as rare as teddy bear s***.” This was precisely the fear that would have engulfed Harlequins fans when they learned in January 2020 that England No3 Kyle Sinckler would be joining Gallagher Premiership rivals Bristol that summer.
Losing your favourite tighthead is a monstrous headache for any scrum but Harlequins had their homework done in advance of the Sinckler departure being made official. South Africa had become a happy recruitment ground for them during the Paul Gustard era and just 17 days after the confirmation that Sinckler was leaving Harlequins for a two-year Ashton Gate deal, the Londoners announced they had captured the signature of Wilco Louw.
They bought well. Here was a seasoned tighthead with 13 Springboks caps, someone who was just back on the Super Rugby scene with the Stormers following a short World Cup cover stint at Toulon in the Top 14.
He didn’t light up the Premiership when he arrived for the post-lockdown restart of the suspended 2019/20 campaign. However, the fingerprints of Louw are all over the 2020/21 season where Harlequins have qualified for the semi-finals with two rounds of regular-season matches to spare.
It’s an achievement made all the more laudable given how the sudden January exit of Gustard as the boss should have had damaging consequences, not galvanise them to go on a run of ten wins in 14 league outings ahead of this Friday night’s visit to fellow semi-finalists Sale.
The Sale boss had claimed Harlequins "are not very gracious in victory", an explosive barb that has now drawn a response from the Londoners ahead of Friday night's Premiership clash #SALvHAR
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 3, 2021
For a change, Louw will be marked absent as Will Collier starts and Simon Kerrod provides the bench back-up, but this has been a campaign where the 26-year-old Springboks prop has ensured Harlequins have not missed the esteemed Sinckler. Nineteen league appearances Louw has made so far, 16 as a starter, and he has packed quite a lot into 1,042 minutes.
According to Premiership Rugby’s stats cave, there have been 78 carries for 102 metres, 140 tackles, five turnovers won, four defenders beaten, three clear breaks, two offloads, one try. More importantly, the Harlequins scrum has been a weapon and as much as scrum coach Adam Jones understandable wants to equitably pass around the praise, listing off practically every front-rower at the club and their usefulness, it is Louw’s impact that has most ensured the Sinckler departure didn’t leave their set-piece vulnerable.
“A good boy, quiet, just gets on with things. Very honest in and around his game,” said Jones when asked by RugbyPass for his summation of the 2020/21 Louw effect at Harlequins. “It doesn’t make any sense as big and as fit as he is because he is the best part of 21-stone but he is ridiculously fit, low body fat, just a bit of an anomaly really. I know what I’m like at that weight and there is no chance I’d be running around the field like he does so he has been great. It took a bit of time for him to get used to the Premiership but he has been a massive part.
“Every (training) session is incredibly competitive. There are no gentleman’s agreements anymore where we will let you win this one. We wouldn’t do a lot of live scrums in the week but when we do them they are incredibly competitive and it’s just getting the best out of everyone.
“The boys have been strong. They do a lot of good stuff in the gym and we spend a little more time analysing than we had done in the past. It has been good. Losing Kyle was a massive hole but we filled it with a substantially sized South African who we knew could scrum.
“To be fair he took a little bit of time to get used to how we scrum in the Premiership but he is showing now why we signed him and we know you have got a big bullseye on your back if you have got a good scrum. We drive it hard around the mental side of it but it certainly has been going pretty well for us.”
Asked why it took Louw a little time to get clued into the nuances of the Premiership scrum with Harlequins compared to elsewhere, Jones added: “Go to the Top 14 it’s very hit as hard as you can, driving in at angles whereas in the Premiership it’s still aggressive in the set but it’s a little bit squarer. Certainly, we try to scrum a little bit squarer.
“Instead of hitting and going straight in across, we have had to square him up a little bit and someone that size, you want him to stay as square as possible for as long as you can. It’s not rocket science but you watch Top 14 scrums, they bash into each other and next it is up in the air or collapsed whereas here it is refereed a bit different.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 23, 2021
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