Hur­ri­cane Sam blows in to boost Scar­lets

Llanelli Star - - HOT HOUSE - Ben James 01792 545542 [email protected]­i­tymir­ror.com

THE Scar­lets have an­nounced their first sign­ing for next sea­son with the re­cruit­ment of Hurricanes lock Sam Lousi.

The 27-year-old will head to Llanelli af­ter spend­ing three sea­sons with the Welling­ton-based Su­per Rugby out­fit.

Auck­land-born with Ton­gan her­itage, Lousi grew up play­ing rugby league. His older brother Sione plays in­ter­na­tional rugby league for Tonga.

The younger Lousi looked des­tined to fol­low a sim­i­lar path, sign­ing for lo­cal NRL out­fit New Zealand War­riors and play­ing a part in their Toyota Cup wins in 2010 and 2011 (the Toyota Cup is the un­der-20s com­pe­ti­tion).

How­ever, se­nior ap­pear­ances for the War­riors were hard to come by and by 2013 Lousi was in dan­ger of be­com­ing a league re­ject.

En­ter an in­vi­ta­tion to cross codes from an un­likely source.

“I had played league my whole life but was go­ing nowhere in the NRL,” Lousi told The Roar in 2017.

“In 2014 the strength and con­di­tion­ing coach at the War­riors was from Syd­ney and an old friend of Michael Cheika.

“Michael was seek­ing some ath­letic for­wards to join the Waratahs. My agent got in touch with Michael and my move to union hap­pened pretty quickly.”

How­ever, af­ter be­ing con­vinced to switch codes by the soon-to-be Aus­tralia coach, his time at the Waratahs wasn’t a roar­ing suc­cess, with a shoulder injury cur­tail­ing his progress.

But a move back across the Tas­man Sea to New Zealand and the Hurricanes, where Chris Boyd had iden­ti­fied the lock as a “big, pow­er­ful man” with “a lot of raw po­ten­tial”, saw Lousi’s stature in union grow.

Af­ter ini­tially be­ing called cum­ber­some by crit­ics, he es­tab­lished him­self as an im­por­tant part of the Canes’ pack.

Lousi made no se­cret of his de­sire to pull on the All Blacks jersey and there have been whis­pers that Steve Hansen had been look­ing at him.

The move to Llanelli rules him out of a call-up for New Zealand, but he could still play Test rugby for Tonga.

Stand­ing at 6ft 5in and weigh­ing 19 stone, the 27-year-old has al­ways done the rough and tum­ble well.

Like all good rugby league locks, Lousi is a bat­ter­ing ram with an off­load and those ba­sics have car­ried through well to union.

Seem­ingly what held him back for so long af­ter switch­ing codes was that the Waratahs didn’t seem too in­ter­ested in teach­ing him the game be­yond those ba­sics.

“It was all good,” Lousi told Stuff.NZ about his time in New South Wales.

“They made it kind of easy for me there, just keep­ing me out of the li­ne­outs and just run­ning re­ally.”

But in Welling­ton Lousi has de­vel­oped into a more rounded player.

He can hit rucks ef­fec­tively, he of­fers plenty of bal­last in the scrum and, iron­i­cally given how he was put on the pe­riph­ery of it at the Waratahs, the line-out is now some­thing he builds his en­tire game around.

“I do like to carry, but I think my con­fi­dence comes from my line-outs and giv­ing qual­ity ball and hav­ing qual­ity jumps and lift­ing and all that,” added Lousi.

“I fig­ure if I have a good day at set­piece, then I’ll be happy with my game. So I think line-outs are more im­por­tant to me [than any­thing else].”

He’s a mon­ster tack­ler, as any of the British and Irish Lions who fea­tured in the 31-31 draw at the West­pac two years ago will at­test.

But there is one par­tic­u­lar brand of tackle that sets Lousi apart — the choke tackle.

For many it’s a scourge of the game but it’s an un­de­ni­able area of strength Lousi has car­ried over from his league days.

In fact, one Twit­ter user once quipped he could hold up the Ti­tanic.

How he will fit in at the Scar­lets depends on how Brad Mooar wants to play, but it seems Lousi is ex­actly the sort of player cur­rent coach Wayne Pi­vac would have loved to re­cruit last sum­mer.

The fu­ture Wales coach spoke at the start of this sea­son about tweak­ing the Scar­lets game to cope with the losses of key for­wards like Tadhg Beirne and John Bar­clay but also to avoid be­ing phys­i­cally man­han­dled, as was the case with Bath at home and the two clashes with Le­in­ster at the Aviva Sta­dium last year.

Blade Thom­son was brought in to add not just an of­fload­ing threat to the Scar­lets’ wide chan­nels but also a phys­i­cal ball-car­ry­ing threat.

The same goes for Uzair Cassiem, an­other phys­i­cal threat brought in to add brute force to the Scar­lets’ verve.

Lousi seems per­fect in that re­gard. Ca­pa­ble of truck­ing the ball up phase af­ter phase, al­low­ing the Scar­lets to ac­tu­ally thrive in the tight, but also able to re­lease an off­load should the op­por­tu­nity arise.

On the other side of the ball is where Lousi’s in­flu­ence could be in­ter­est­ing to see.

At their peak the Scar­lets utilised sev­eral turnover threats to ini­ti­ate at­tack­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties. With Beirne, Bar­clay and James Davies, the Scar­lets could tar­get the break­down and then at­tack on tran­si­tion.

With no Beirne or Bar­clay now, tar­get­ing the break­down is harder, but Lousi’s pres­ence could see the choke tackle be­com­ing an­other way of forc­ing op­po­nents to cough up the ball.

The most pleas­ing as­pect is that many in Welling­ton still feel Lousi is a work in progress, with plenty more in the tank as he con­tin­ues to de­velop as a player.

Sam Lousi of the Hurricanes is tack­led by the Lions’ Tommy Sey­mour dur­ing the 2017 match be­tween the Hurricanes and the tourists in Wel­ing­ton.

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