Rugby | Bags of good Bok locks … but best pair?

Cape Town – Rassie
Erasmus may find his Springbok second-row selection fairly straightforward in
the short term.

Why would
the national coach wish to fix a department that ain’t broke, as they say?

So at very
least for the Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Durban on Saturday
week, it is reasonable to believe that he will stick to the combination who
started all three Tests in the 2-1 series victory over England during June: RG
Snyman and Franco Mostert.

By the same
principle, another of the booming arsenal of sterling Bok locks, versatile
Pieter-Steph du Toit, played inspiringly enough at blindside flank in the final
two Tests against the English to suggest that he will retain the No 7 jersey at
Kings Park – unless there is a really strong desire to switch captain Siya
Kolisi away from his current open-side role to the other side of the scrum.

Snyman-Mostert alliance generally gave the Boks pleasing ascendancy in the
second row during the England series, both showing all the right levels of
physicality, mobility and scrummaging and lineout prowess.

the big-hearted Mostert was also one of relatively few Lions players to offer
genuinely stout, game-long resistance to the formidable Crusaders in last
weekend’s Super Rugby final in Christchurch.

He has
played a lot of rugby of late, but “Sous” – regrettably now switching from the
Johannesburg franchise to Johan Ackermann’s Gloucester – is also one of that
rare breed of players whose juices never seem to dry up despite over-burdensome

As for the
unusually tall (2.07m), but also powerful-framed Snyman, the 23-year-old has
shown ample signs already that he could be a serious handful to any comers by
the time the 2019 World Cup comes around in just over a year from now.

His first
exposure to the demands of a full-scale Championship (next year it will be a
single-round tournament, typical of RWC years) should only enhance his
street-wisdom against some of the very best teams on the planet.

But what of
the hardly trifling matter of a certain Eben Etzebeth?

South Africa’s premier lock for several years, the 26-year-old (thus still an
attractive candidate for at least another two World Cups) has been a near nine-month
write-off to all rugby while painstakingly going through the rehab process from
what was clearly a serious, complex shoulder injury.

He is in the
broad Bok squad for the Championship, but it is highly unlikely he is ready to
vault straight into a starting lineup; certainly not for the back-to-back Tests
against the Pumas.

It would
simply be as relief, frankly, to see him get through 20 minutes or so unscathed
as a substitute at some point in the tournament, creating more meteoric
possibilities from there.

But once
67-cap Etzebeth eventually reaches maximum fitness again, Erasmus’s selection
in the second row suddenly becomes more of a dilemma.

With his
dream cocktail of natural, fiery competitiveness, muscularity and athleticism,
the Stormers man is one of the most valued current Springboks: in short, if he’s
healthy, Etzebeth plays.

When that
time comes, a first-time partnership of Etzebeth and Snyman somehow seems
enormously appealing.

It would
mean Snyman shifting from present “front” duty to the No 5 berth, but he is
highly adaptable as we already know from his Bulls tenure, where he generally
operates at five when teamed up with hefty, similarly quite youthful colleague
Jason Jenkins.

Put Etzebeth
and Snyman together and, with due respect to the what-you-see-is-what-you-get
toiler Mostert, you have two imposing specimens both brimful of X-factor at
their specialist trade.

If that
scenario comes into play at some point, Mostert, like Du Toit, may find that
his versatility becomes both a virtue and impediment, as he would obviously be
a rosy bench option.

In the
meantime, expect both Mostert and Snyman to aim to play out of their skins to
ensure they hang onto their starting berths.

It isn’t
just Etzebeth, of course, looming as a major threat to breaking up their current
alliance: lanky, also highly Test-proven Lood de Jager may be back in
contention toward the end of the Championship after his pectoral muscle tear
earlier in the season.

And even
while De Jager rounds off his rehab, the country remains blessed anyway with a
staggering array of second-rowers potentially sticking up their hands for World
Cup tickets next year if their form warrants it.

They include
fast-maturing Marvin Orie, already in Erasmus’s plans and now likely to be the
Lions’ senior lock in 2019, JD Schickerling, Ruan Botha and the French-based
behemoths Paul Willemse (still only 25) and Jacques du Plessis (24).

For the next
fortnight and maybe slightly beyond, the Bok starters at lock look fairly
logical, easy picks.

rather than later, coach Erasmus will face much more in the way of

In the
nicest possible way …

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