Padua — Things got rather feisty at the Springboks’s training session on Tuesday.
The players were put through their paces a short bus ride from their hotel at the Valsugana Rugby Club in the Italian city of Padua and went at it with more than a little grunt.
It showed‚ with tighthead Wilco Louw sporting a bleeding nose from the first scrum and flanker Francois Louw emerging from the training limping‚ favouring a knee.
"It got a bit feisty today‚" said assistant coach Matt Proudfoot while looking at Wilco Louw, who was seated next to him.
The Boks have upped the ante in their intensity in preparing for Saturday’s Test against Italy.
They do not want a repeat of what happened in Florence in 2016, when the Italians met their physical challenge head on in the primary phases.
"They had a specific plan with the maul. Sergio Parisse gets under your skin and he gets to your jumper‚" Proudfoot said.
He emphasised‚ however‚ that every week it was about "meeting the physical challenge of the opposition".
To that end, the team will at least be physically primed.
With live scrumming the order of the day at practice‚ Proudfoot recalled an interaction with Wilco Louw.
"He said: ‘Coach you were a bit hard on me’. I said: ‘The day I stop‚ worry’‚" said Proudfoot.
With as many as nine players sitting out training on Monday‚ order was more or less restored on Tuesday. With so much lively activity, it presented fringe players with the opportunity to display their wares.
There may not be too many places in the team up for grabs this weekend, but the last Test of the tour against Wales falls outside the Test window and changes are inevitable.
Every so often‚ Wilco Louw pinches himself.
Not just because he is playing for‚ as he calls it‚ "the best team in the word"‚ but he is doing so with some of his heroes.
"Guys like Duane Vermeulen‚ Eben Etzebeth and Frans Malherbe were my heroes when I started playing.
"They are still my heroes and now I get to play with them‚" he said with a boyish smile.
Do not be fooled‚ however. Louw is a doorstop of a tighthead‚ rarely moving to the whims of an opponent. His greeting is hand-bendingly firm and he looks you in the eye.
There is something endearingly grounded‚ honest and old school about Louw.
He is handy‚ in a crafting way. "Some of the furniture I have‚ I made myself. I like going into the garage and working with my hands‚" he said with a grin.
Now he is in the throes of crafting a career that he can barely believe is taking shape so quickly.
Although he blipped on the radar with greater regularity over the past two years‚ his rise in 2017 has happened at breakneck speed.
"Things have happened quickly. I have to pinch myself.
"But you have a job to do. You can’t just arrive on a Saturday and expect things to fall into place. You have to know your detail. You have to work hard and know your stuff."
Forceful performances at the business end of the Currie Cup have helped steel him for the rigours of a northern hemisphere tour.
"I played for Western Province in Kimberley in a 3pm kick-off. That’s no joke‚" he said about the last game he featured in before getting the nod for a potential Bok debut.
Proudfoot speaks in glowing terms of Louw.
"Wilco has really made a step up since making his debut. He’s played against the All Blacks in Cape Town‚ Ireland in Dublin and France in Paris. I’m very proud of him."