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Odd couple: Bath to RWC

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The veteran Bok and the young Englishman make an odd couple, but they have bonded over beers in Bath

Sam Underhill and Francis Louw make an odd couple, the 23-year-old Englishman who is still in the foothills of his rugby career hanging out with a veteran South African who is 11 years older and coming out the other side of his career at the ripe old age of 34. 

However, club-mates at Bath since Underhill’s 2017 move from the Ospreys, where he was a year shy of qualifying under residency to be eligible for Wales, they will be familiar faces when they pack down on opposite sides in next Saturday’s World Cup final. 

They might not be at each other’s throats for long in Yokohama – 75-cap Louw is set to only come into the game as a replacement whereas 14-cap Underhill will be out there from the start. But the respect the South African has for his rival Englishman is utmost.  

Reflecting on his first impressions of Underhill when the flanker arrived at Bath two years ago, Louw said: “Quiet guy, softly-spoken, loves a beer – I’ve drawn him for many of those. He has developed massively as a player. He has refined elements of his game that definitely came through in this past weekend’s game (against the All Blacks) – especially in defence.

“His ability to stop momentum in the tackle, and a presence at the breakdown with poaching and jackaling the ball, and just discovering what rugby is all about.

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“There are so many different ways to play the game, and being the young guy that he is, he is being exposed to so many different concepts, strategies, different styles of players around you, and he is adapting to that.

“He has a massive hunger to learn and grow as a player, which I think is one of the ultimate traits of a professional rugby player – that burning desire to better yourself continuously, and that he does possess. He is rightly rewarded to be selected for England, and to start in the seven shirt.”

Louw’s respect for fellow back rows wasn’t limited to Underhill on Tuesday, the long-serving Bath player also paying tribute to the style of leadership Siya Kolisi has brought in recent times to the Springboks. 

“Siya’s got a lot of weight on his shoulders in terms of the role as captain, with regards to the make-up of our country and our nation – where we’ve come from, where we are right now. It’s a role he’s grasped fully. I’ll never forget the first thing he did as captain was encourage those around him to support him and help him lead.

“Being self-aware, again, is a fantastic trait of a leader. Find out what your strengths and weaknesses are, and make sure you surround yourself with people who are wiser than you in areas, and you will succeed.

“Siya is very aware of that, and he’s led with great example, with great courage. And he rallies the guys up when necessary. He’ll call on specific players to act on certain areas of the game and to take leadership and control there.

“Ultimately, he surrounds himself with a mini-leadership group that really makes his job and his role a whole lot easier. But I think most importantly, at the end of the day, all that matters is that you lead by example in terms of your play, and I think he has been playing fantastic rugby.”

WATCH: Former England international Neil Back sits down with RugbyPass to reflect on his country’s 2003 World Cup final victory

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The veteran Bok and the young Englishman make an odd couple, but they have bonded over beers in Bath