The Old Diocesan_Issue4_Oct2019 - Page 63

Seconds remain. Buoyed by the
chants of Allez les Bleus, France
have the Springboks’ line under
siege. They simply need to keep
control of the ball, wind down the
clock. Pick and go, pick and go.
But winding down the clock
is so gloriously un-French. They
lead by 26-22 but are hungry for
another score they don’t need.
As a burly French forward picks
and goes alone, “Green 20” (to use
refereeing parlance) makes a snap
decision and seizes his moment.
Francois Louw has come off the
bench on a tour that will go a long
way to confirming or refuting the
legitimacy of his claim to a World
Cup spot in nine months’ time.
Louw goes low, latches onto a
ball exposed by the temporarily
isolated Frenchman, braces for
contact and refuses to budge.
Nigel Owens’s whistle brings
groans, followed by silence from
the stands. Penalty South Africa.
That snap decision and the
quality of the contribution that
followed has given the Springboks
a hint of belief, a glimmer of hope
when a few seconds later there
would have been none.
What follows is beautifully
chaotic – a slew of penalties
conceded by a desperate and
agitated “Les Bleus”, now trying
to kill off the game by any means.
Our Nigel is having none of it.
A series of precision lineouts,
a winning Springbok try ruled out
by the TMO. No advantage. Penalty
Green. Repeat. Precision lineout.
Perfect maul. Mbonambi scores.
South Africa win.
And amid that beautiful, barmy
chaos, it was too easy to forget
that it started with Flo.
In the matches that followed
that night in Paris, there have been
many similar instances of crucial
steals at crucial times, which have
made Francois’s cocktail of timing,
determination, experience and
leadership impossible for Rassie
Erasmus to ignore as part of his
31-strong squad for the Rugby
World Cup in Japan. It will be
Francois’s third and last World
Cup, as he looks to exit the
international game on a high
before finishing up at the club and
in the city that have embraced him
and become home, Bath in England.
It is telling that even at a
relatively old 34 years and playing
in a dynamic, athletic position,
Francois has made it impossible
not to pick him through sheer
weight of his performance and
contribution – and that off the
back of being cruelly robbed of
game time by injury during the
past club season. That frustration
may well have been a strong
contributing factor in his return
to form and selection favour.
“I was in a strange space
mentally, not entirely sure if I had
a future in the international game
and nearing the end of my contract
at Bath,” he says, reflecting on the
past 12 months. “I asked myself
some tough questions during the
injury-enforced downtime. Did
I have another year in me? Was
it time to walk away and embark
on a new career path? Basically,
I was asking myself whether
I was still good enough.
“But I found myself to be as
committed as ever to getting
back to full fitness, and that
showed me I still had the desire
– I had unfinished business and
unfulfilled goals in the game.”
Flo in action for the Blue.
Spectators top left are
Messrs Wallis-Brown,
Bey and Hamilton-Smith.
In his matric yearbook, Francois described his greatest achievement
as “Playing for the ‘Blue’ and running onto the Piley Rees!” No surprises,
given the rugby heritage in his family and the pivotal role he played in
the 2002 and 2003 First XVs, in which he formed powerful loose trios
with first JJ Gagiano (2003S) and Alexei Loubser (2002B), then Gagiano
and Luc Du Plessis (2003B). (JJ Gagiano would go on to represent the
United States at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.)
Of the 2003 vintage, coach André Jacobs wrote, “No doubt that the
success of this team lay in our pattern to bring our magnificent loose trio
of JJ Gagiano, Francois Louw and Luc Du Plessis into play. They wreaked
havoc with opposition defences and created many opportunities for the
rest of the team to exploit. JJ’s pace, Francois’s powerful runs and tackles
and Luc’s skills made them an ideal combination and a pleasure to watch.”

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