Sti Sithole holds secret to Lions scrumming success
JOHANNESBURG – It’s not always clear what dark arts are cast within the obscured shadowland that is the scrum.
For many fans and pundits alike, it is a matter of the scrum-half feeding the ball into that undiscovered country, witchcraft happens, and the ball pops out, or some fantastical happenstance occurs that results in a penalty, or joy-of-joys, a tight-head.
The denizens of this obscure realm are made up of hardy dwarves, unbending giants and a rogue’s gallery, who must all work together to dominate their opposition, and give the glamour boys in the backline the front-foot ball they so crave.
Sti Sithole is one such loremaster of the scrum, the burly Golden Lions prop quietly going about his business, but standing tall when it matters most. He has been integral in the resurgence of the Lions pack – along with Carlu Sadie and Jaco Visagie – in recent weeks, a welcome development after the Super Rugby woes earlier this year in that department.
“I guess, it all comes down to synergy of the pack,” Sithole said with a chuckle when commenting on the pack’s change in fortunes.
“Everybody knows each other and how they like to scrum. We did a lot of video work of what went wrong over the first period of the original Super Rugby. And then, during the lockdown period and the pre-season, we really worked hard on our individual shape and then together as a whole a pack. It’s good to see our work now starting to show on the field.
“It is working really well,” the 27-year-old loosehead continued, with specific reference to his front row partners Sadie and Visagie.
“We have started to get to know each other very well and things are going nice and smoothly. We are improving each week. There is plenty of competition (amongst the forwards), so we push each other week in, week out and on every training day.”
That competition spurring on the continued improvement of the front row, is composed of a cluster of veterans in Springboks Jannie du Plessis and Ruan Dreyer, the underrated Dylan Smith, Wiehahn Herbst and Nathan McBride. With such healthy stock also permeating through the pack in general, it has also seen the defence of the Lions improve significantly.
During their six matches of the final Super Rugby season earlier this year, the Joburgers conceded a whopping 27 tries. Fast forward to Super Rugby Unlocked and that number shrunk to 10 tries, although after four games.
Said Sithole of their much improved defence: “We looked at a lot of footage of where we made our mistakes and why we leaked all those tries during the original Super Rugby.
“We tweaked a few things within our system and after that it was just hard work on the training ground. I think as soon as we got that mindset going (to defend consistently), everything is now slowly starting to click for us and hopefully we can take it to a higher standard.”
This Saturday, the Lions start the second half of the season, the Carling Currie Cup, against the Griquas (kick off 4.30pm) – with 12 points carried over from SRU. The Lions will hope for another blowout against the Kimberley-based side, as was the case last month when they beat them 61-31. On that matchday, the Lions dominated the Griquas at the set pieces for the majority of the match, and while the Lions faithful will hope for a repeat performance, a humble Sithole believes it will be a much sterner test this weekend.
“We know that they have improved a lot,” said Sithole of the upcoming forwards’ battle.
“(The Griquas) will be a different beast and I am sure that they will also be looking for revenge. But we are also up for that battle and prepared for it. We are under no illusion that it will not be the same sort of set-piece result as what happened when we played them the first time. They will be better in those departments and we will be ready for that challenge,” Sithole concluded – and who is to argue with the Lions’ sage of the scrum.