Lions boss Johan Ackermann and captain Warren Whiteley always credit the forwards first because without them, without their work up front, and laying the foundation, the likes of Elton Jantjies, Harold Vorster, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Ruan Combrinck and Courtnall Skosan can’t do their thing.
And now workhorse and scrum machine Jacques van Rooyen - who is one of the unlucky ones to miss out on Springbok and SA “A” selection - has revealed what makes the Lions such a powerful scrumming unit.
Together with tighthead Ruan Dreyer and hooker Malcolm Marx, the Lions front row has been all-powerful this season. And, let’s not forget Dreyer and Van Rooyen weren’t even first-choice players last year - the injured Julian Redelinghuys and Dylan Smith were the men Ackermann used more often in the front row.
But whether it’s these men doing the scrumming, or Corné Fourie, or Johannes Jonker or Hencus van Wyk - the three back-up men for the front row - the Lions are a force to be reckoned with.
“It’s all about the systems,” said Van Rooyen, explaining the Lions’ recipe. “When you pack down together, when you’re nice and compact and tight that’s when you can scrum well.
“If you had to compare scrumming to a fist, a good scrum is a closed fist a not so good scrum position is an open hand smack. There are eight guys in a scrum and they all have to pull their weight. If one guy isn’t in it the scrum falls apart.”
Van Rooyen says Ackermann and former Springbok tighthead prop Balie Swart have played a big role in perfecting the Lions’ scrumming. “They got us to where we are today; straight back and pushing with the legs, that’s how you get explosive power.”
Van Rooyen has enjoyed a very good Super Rugby campaign up to now and he makes no bones about the fact that starting regularly, as opposed to coming off the bench last year, has played a big part.
“Everyone is different, but I like playing each week. It gives me confidence and I stay match fit. And for a prop that’s crucial,” he says.
“I want to contribute as much as I can. I want to be involved, but when you’re on the bench a lot that’s difficult. I think playing often this year from the start has helped my game tremendously.”
This Sunday the Lions will be up against the Kings and Van Rooyen will face his old friend “Hond” van der Merwe in the front row battle. Van der Merwe was a regular in the Lions team until three years ago when he decided to spend a year in France. He’s now made Port Elizabeth his home.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Van Rooyen. “He’s doing well down there and I know he and the Kings will try to make life as difficult as possible for us. They’re playing well so it should be a good game one we must win.”
Ackermann will name his team on Friday and it’s likely captain Whiteley will sit this one out or play from off the bench.
Also, it’ll be interesting to see if Ackermann picks flank Jaco Kriel, who has struggled with a knee injury for the last four weeks.