Lions front row face fiercest battle of them all in Rainbow Cup clash with Stormers
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JOHANNEBSURG - It doesn’t get easier for the Lions scrum this weekend.
First it was the battle at Loftus against Gerhard Steenekamp, Johan Grobbelaar, Mornay Smith, Lizo Gqoboka and Jacques van Rooyen, then second up, down in Durban, the Lions front-row had to face Springboks Ox Nche and Thomas du Toit, and Kerron van Vuuren, future Bok Ntuthuko Mchunu and Wiehahn Herbst. And on Saturday, they'll arguably face the fiercest trio of them all in World Cup winners Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe.
Oh, and don't forget the mercurial Scarra Ntubeni ...
The Stormers have a scary good frontrow, and their entire pack is not too shabby either, which makes it all the more odd that they have lost their first two encounters at home.
It becomes even stranger with the realisation that those losses have not been due to a lack of having a set-piece base to work from.
The Stormers have packed down 11 times during the Rainbow Cup South Africa, and they are yet to lose one.
In Kitshoff and Malherbe they have arguably the two best scrummagers in world rugby, while Mbonambi is respected and feared for his physicality. The men at the Lions who must then tame these beasts, have their work cut out for them.
Against the Sharks that was Sti Sithole, PJ Botha and Carlu Sadie, with Jaco Visagie, Nathan McBeth and Asenathi Ntlabakanye on the bench.
Add Jannie du Plessis and Morne Brandon to the mix, and you have the full complement of front-row forwards that have played thus far in the tournament.
We are yet to see the now multi-positional prop and Bok Ruan Dreyer, who is back to full fitness, or youngster Banele Mthenjane, with the former more likely to make an appearance this weekend, than the latter.
The Lions scrum at times has been creaky, especially in the early exchanges, but it has held its own at crucial moments, and even effected a tighthead on the odd occasion.
In a battle that has fine margins, however, every pack-down is important. In Durban, the Sharks won that battle 92% to 78%, and a week earlier the Bulls had a 86% scrum success to the Lions' 75%.
In all, the Lions have scrummed 22 times during this tournament and lost five - small margins to be sure, but ones that have a big impact on the proceedings of a match.
The Lions cannot afford to be on the losing ends of these margins against a powerful Stormers pack that will have the singular objective to destroy the Lions scrum on Saturday (kick-off 1.30pm).
Last season Sithole and Visagie made
up the backbone of the scrum, with injury and rotation cycling through Du Plessis, Sadie and Dreyer, and in all honesty that should be the mix now going forward.
Sadie, especially, needs to get more gametime to prove that he is first choice tighthead at the union.
At 24-years-old, and weighing in at 124kg he has arguably now touched the age of maturity for a No 3, and if he has any ambitions to play for the senior national men's team in the future, his time starts now.
As has been witnessed in previous weeks, beating the Stormers won't be all reliant on winning the scrum battle as the Cape-based side are vulnerable in other departments at the moment, but fronting up up-front will go a long way for the Lions in overturning the two losses they have suffered thus far.