Amlin Challenge Cup 2014: Francois Louw back and firing for Bath's tilt at glory

The Springbok flanker has fully recovered from an ankle injury and is ready to face Northampton

rugby union correspondent

As a general rule of thumb, a player who has not set foot on a rugby field in two months cannot be expected to trip the light fantastic in a major European final without spending so much as a single minute on the comeback trail. The very best players are different, of course – and as far as Bath are concerned, their Springbok flanker Francois Louw fits squarely into that category.

Louw, fully recovered from the ankle injury he suffered in landing awkwardly from a line-out during a Premiership match at London Irish in March, will be in the open-side role when the West Countrymen square up to Northampton in Friday night's Amlin Challenge Cup decider at Cardiff Arms Park. It is asking a hell of a lot of the man from Cape Town to get among the in-form Midlanders in his time-honoured fashion having spent so long out in the cold, but such is the heat he generates with his work at the breakdown, the temperature gauge is likely to rise soon enough.

"Francois is world-class as a player and a leader," said Mike Ford, the Bath head coach, who saw his side slip out of the Premiership play-off places in the absence of Louw and a second influential flanker, Matt Garvey, who suffered a similar kind of injury in a near-identical way and remains unavailable for selection. "We need competitiveness at the ruck and he provides it for us. We could have risked him in our last game at Harlequins two weekends ago, but decided against it. He's pretty desperate to get out there and win this one."

The winning bit will not be easy, by any manner of means. Northampton knocked seven bells out of themselves, as well as their derby rivals Leicester, in recording a famous Premiership semi-final victory at Franklin's Gardens seven days ago, and in the immediate aftermath of that contest, their rugby director, Jim Mallinder, hinted at wholesale changes to his starting line-up. Those changes have not materialised, presumably because, on due reflection, the Midlanders rather fancy the idea of bagging a trophy before next weekend's domestic showpiece against Saracens at Twickenham.

There are tinkerings in the Northampton side, but major surgery has been kept to a bare minimum. Ken Pisi, the Samoan wing who would have faced Leicester but for a late orthopaedic complication, is back in the mix, as is the England scrum-half Lee Dickson, promoted over another South Seas islander, the exceptional Kahn Fotuali'i, for this fixture. Up front, the Lions loose-head prop Alex Corbisiero starts ahead of Alex Waller, who made an outstanding contribution over the course of his elder and better's long spell of incapacitation, while Tom Mercey replaces the suspended Salesi Ma'afu. In the back row, Calum Clark gets the nod over Phil Dowson in another either-or call.

Bath, meanwhile, had an easier time of it in selection. As they are fast running out of hookers – poor old England are in a similar state, just over a fortnight out from a meeting with the All Blacks in Auckland – the choice lay between the Argentina Test forward Eusebio Guinazu, who leaves the club after this game, and the young local product Tom Dunn. Perhaps with one eye on the future, Ford has chosen promise over experience. Elsewhere, the team all but picked itself, with the likes of Carl Fearns and Ollie Devoto performing so well in the problem positions of blind-side flanker and inside centre.

There will be much interest in Devoto's display – on balance, he is almost as unlucky as the Leicester full-back Mathew Tait to miss out on a tour place to New Zealand, which makes him criminally unfortunate – and even more attention on George Ford, the son of the head coach, whose dodgy shoulder is likely to be a magnet for the Northampton back-rowers, none of whom are easily mistaken for pacifists.

However, Tom Wood and company will have to subdue Louw if they are to win this tournament for a second time before it disappears into the mists of history – in its current form, at least. "It will be a hell of a hard game, a relentless one, but this is the pressure we want to feel," the South African remarked. "To play in a final with so much emotion involved… that's what brings the excitement."

Gloucester, still without a head coach after the sacking of Nigel Davies last week, are busy on the recruitment front nonetheless. Jacob Rowan, a 24-year-old chemistry graduate with a big reputation in the north of the country, is joining the club from Leeds. When he arrives at Kingsholm, he will be reunited with the international wing Jonny May and the tight-head prop Shaun Knight, both of whom he captained during his time with the England Under-20s.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific