“I don’t recall South Africa having a stable of five top pedigree locks like this,”
No matter who Rassie Erasmus picks for his Springbok second row, he is sure to have a case of “lock, stock and two smoking barrels,” to borrow from English movie director Guy Ritchie.
The Bok lock stocks have indeed seldom been better if you consider that – injury permitting – by the World Cup Erasmus will have an embarrassment of riches in Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Franco Mostert and RG Snyman, while bubbling under are bright new things in JD Schickerling and Marvin Orie; not to mention a slightly older hand in Ruan Botha.
The scary thing is that if all five of the front-runners are fit and battle-hardened, the current lock pairing of Mostert and Snyman might not make the match 23 for the Boks’ World Cup opener against New Zealand in about 13 months time The two were excellent in the series against England but already their partnership is set to be broken with the revelation yesterday that Erasmus wants to give Etzebeth a starting cameo against Argentina.
Etzebeth is fit again after nine months of recovery from a complicated shoulder injury and will be broken back into rugby in starting spurts rather than off the bench, according to Erasmus (see back page).
De Jager is making good progress after undergoing pectoral muscle surgery and he could come into contention towards the end of the Rugby Championship, while Pieter-Steph du Toit (pictured) could force his way into the starting line-up unless Erasmus wants to use him off the bench as cover for both blindside flank and lock.
Mark Andrews, one of the greatest locks this country has produced, has followed the progress of his second row successors, and his observations are both revealing and encouraging.
“I don’t recall South Africa having a stable of five top pedigree locks like this,” Andrews said. “For a long time there was just two or three – in my day it was myself and Krynauw Otto playing 40 Tests together, then there was the era of Victor Matfeld and Bakkies Botha, with not a lot behind them, and more recently there hasn’t been too much depth.”
Running the rule over these five prime contenders, Andrews makes the following elucidations: “Mostert has the heart of a lion, he plays with his rev counter continually in the red. He will never let you down – you see that with how he cover tackles like a wing.
“He reminds me of a Norm Maxwell (the former Crusaders and All Blacks lock) in that he is not the biggest of guys (1.98m, 112kgs) but doesn’t back down. I have a concern that size may prevent him from become a truly world class lock. I can tell you that it is intimidating when you play against a team with two world class, 2m-plus locks. It gives their team a real presence.”
Andrews says that 23-year-old Snyman has been a revelation this season with his line-out prowess, work rate, athleticism and a turn of pace that has seen him overhaul backline players.
“RG makes his tackles and does his set piece basics well. He is still raw, though, and I would like to see him play alongside an experienced lock that can bring out the best in him,” Andrews said.
Andrews says De Jager is a class act, an intelligent player that reads the game superbly to get himself into position to make tackles (at Rugby World Cup 2015, his 77 tackles were the most by an individual) or to support the ball carrier, while his running of the line-outs is exceptional.
Andrews is equally impressed with Du Toit.
“I cannot rate Pieter-Steph highly enough. When he gets going, there are few locks in the world to match him. He can make a massive impact on a game. He is world class. He has to be one of the three locks in your match day squad, with his ability to cover flank possibly working against him as a starter.”
Which brings us to Etzebeth. Andrews admires facets of the big man’s play but believes we have not seen the best of him.
“We see his aggression all the time, a fair amount of it after the whistle has gone, but if Eben wants to be the best lock in the world I feel we need to see him using his power in every situation.
“We need to see better body position with ball in hand rather than being upright. We need to see him putting players on their backsides more often in strong tackles. He is good at the grab tackles but if you look at similar players like (former Crusaders and All Blacks captain) Reuben Thorne and Bakkies Botha they smashed the opposition into the turf.”
Finally, if you had to put a gun to Andrews’ head, who would he pick for that World Cup opener against the All Blacks?
“Etzebeth and De Jager to start and Du Toit on the bench.”