Hurricane Sam blows in to boost Scarlets
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.