Cape Town - Bismarck du Plessis is regarded as the best hooker in the world, let alone South Africa, but he came second to none other than Western Province No 2 Siyabonga “Scarra” Ntubeni last Saturday in Durban.
And another “young turk” in the Province pack, loosehead prop Steven Kitshoff, dominated the other Du Plessis brother Jannie in the scrums.
The most impressive aspect about Ntubeni’s performance was the way he found his jumpers, especially Eben Etzebeth, in the lineouts in extremely difficult conditions. The wind was swirling inside Kings Park and heavy rain started falling before kickoff.
But he didn’t take a backward step to Bismarck in the tight loose either, making much greater impact with his ball-carries and tackles than the Bok No 2. That is sure to give the 22-year-old great confidence for Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final against the Golden Lions at Newlands (2.30pm kickoff).
“Ja, Scarra’s improving a hell of a lot on his throwing,” WP forwards coach Matthew Proudfoot told the Cape Times. “We’ve been investing a lot in him and it’s good to see him getting consistency and stepping up. For a 22-year-old, that’s the challenge he has to learn. He has a lot of enthusiasm and adds a lot to the team, but he’s got to have that mental approach and I think he is developing that nicely.
“His work-rate is very, very good - it’s not something that he has a problem with. He’s got a great intensity.
“Facing Bismarck, I think it was a one-off game and is part of the development of a young player. We said you want to test yourself against players like Bismarck, who is without doubt the world’s best hooker.”
Of course, Bismarck will hope to get another shot at Ntubeni in the final if WP and the Sharks win this weekend.
And the same goes for Jannie, whose ego must’ve been dented after being shunted around by Kitshoff, who only turned 21 in February and was still eligible for Under-21 rugby this year. WP won two tightheads, while the Sharks were lucky to win one after Tendai Mtawarira “walked around” against Pat Cilliers.
The wily Jannie tried all the tricks in the book against Kitshoff, binding illegally over the arm and sometimes even on the shoulder of the WP man, but the ginger-haired strongman didn’t fall for those manoeuvres, maintaining a straight back and pushing through Du Plessis.
Jannie had a lot to say to referee Jonathan Kaplan as well, while Kitshoff adopted the role of a “Silent Assassin” - keeping quiet, zoning in on his prey and going in for the kill.
“Steven is now at 21 an experienced player. Steven has had a great Currie Cup and is playing with that maturity, which is remarkable. The Currie Cup has served its purpose for him - for him next year’s Super Rugby is going to be a really big season. The challenge is now going to occur when the tightheads start to go for him,” said Proudfoot.
“A scrum is a collective unit and I think the collective scrummed well in Durban - our timing was good and our cohesion was good. So then a prop can do his job. There’s still a lot of room for improvement. We’ve got to keep pushing for those two percents.”
The Lions pack won’t be pushovers though, especially in the mauls where they scored twice against WP two weeks ago. While Province’s lineouts worked well against the Sharks, Proudfoot was unhappy about their mauling, which will be a crucial area as Lions loose forwards Derick Minnie, Jaco Kriel and Willie Britz are forceful ball-carriers around the fringes.
“I was happy with what we’ve been working on to develop an attitude of excellence around the set-phase is starting to bear fruit. It’s a step in the right direction, but we are preparing ourselves for another big challenge as the Lions are a good set-phase team,” said Proudfoot.
“I wasn’t happy about how we struggled to set mauls from the front. We are looking at a bit more physical dominance there, and will work on that.”
Meanwhile, the Cape Times understands that Duane Vermeulen sat out training for the second day in a row on Tuesday. Following a brutal game against the Sharks, Vermeulen, Deon Fourie and De Kock Steenkamp missed practice on Monday too.
But coach Allister Coetzee said on Monday that the trio had bumps and bruises and were being managed, and were “all available for this weekend”.
Marius Jonker will be the referee for the Newlands semi-final.