Bath, in dire need of a strong start to the Premiership season after missing out on Europe with a below-the-fold finish last time out, suffered a heavy blow yesterday when their best player, the South African flanker Francois Louw, was recalled by the Springboks for the next tranche of southern hemisphere Rugby Championship games.
Louw is available to the West Countrymen for this weekend's opener at Worcester, but he will leave England within hours of the final whistle and may not be seen here again until mid-October.
The Springbok coach, Heyneke Meyer, may have received a semi-sympathetic hearing from Bath yesterday – after all, the new rugby director at the Recreation Ground is Gary Gold, a fellow South African who was until recently a member of the Boks' back-room staff – but they needed this news like the proverbial hole in the head. Louw was among the stand-out performers in the country last season, in any position, until injury brought his campaign to a premature close.
Meyer is having a rocky time: the draw against Argentina in Mendoza last weekend led to a fierce round of critical bullets being fired in his direction and he has serious injury problems in the back row: Schalk Burger, Juan Smith and the new hot-shot Siya Kolisi are all out for the year, while the out-of-favour groundhog Heinrich Brussow is on the list of walking wounded.
Hence Meyer's decision to make an offshore move for Louw. "We opted for Francois because he is a specialist openside flanker who can cover the blind and No 8 positions as well," he said. As there are only four other loose forwards in the squad for Tests with Australia on Saturday week and New Zealand seven days later, one of whom is the uncapped Duane Vermeulen, Louw may be returning to international rugby for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile the London Welsh coach, Lyn Jones, said the club would not seek disciplinary redress against Scarlets after an incident in a warm-up match left Gavin Henson nursing a fractured jaw. "We discussed it with Gavin and he's really not interested in pushing it any further," Jones said. "I want what's best for the player. If that's what he wants, that's what he gets."