South Africa's Super Rugby hookers: Who can step up to the Bok plate?
We will assess the leading players this season at the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers, and make our final selection. Let’s look at hooker
Bulls: Jaco Visagie
The former Bolander, who hails from Clanwilliam, has now matured into a solid Super Rugby hooker. He is a hard-working “extra loose forward” who gets around the pitch and does the unfashionable stuff, and is not a modern-day flashy No 2.
The 27-year-old hits rucks hard, finds his jumpers and makes his tackles.
The Bulls are in an impressive sixth position on the tournament list with regards to lineout success, on 88 percent, although their scrum has not been as smooth, being ranked 10th on 90 percent this season.
Visagie has made 13 ball-carries and five turnovers, as well as 45 tackles - which places him joint-fourth among hookers, although he has missed 12 tackles, the most in his position.
Lions: Pieter Jansen
The Lions have won just one of their six matches, with their inexperienced pack of forwards one of the major reasons for their struggles. They haven’t been able to gain dominance upfront, with their lineout not functioning optimally either.
They are ranked 11th in the tournament with an 86.3 percent lineout success rate, and have the worst scrum - statistically - with 81 percent.
It is part of the reason why Jansen eventually lost his starting berth to Jan-Henning Campher for the last few matches.
Jansen had the chance to establish himself as the Lions’ first-choice hooker in the absence of Malcolm Marx, who is on a sabbatical in Japan, but he hasn’t quite made the most of it.
Jansen has made 13 ball-carries, but just 20 tackles in 270 minutes of rugby across six matches. His best contribution has come in the tight loose, with eight turnovers.
Sharks: Kerron van Vuuren
At the start of the season, some people outside Durban may have wondered “Kerron who?”, but now the rest of South Africa would have sat up and taken notice of Van Vuuren, based on his performances.
The Glenwood High product is a “no-frills” operator who seems to have that bit of mongrel needed to be a success at hooker. He never stops working, as can be seen by his 47 tackles, the joint second-most in the competition among hookers.
Van Vuuren has engineered six turnovers, and forced three tackle-busts and two offloads from his 19 runs.
But the Sharks’ lineout is rated as the worst in Super Rugby at 78.4 percent.
Stormers: Scarra Ntubeni
The early-season injury to Bongi Mbonambi has provided Ntubeni with an opportunity to push for a Bok recall after he missed out on the World Cup last year.
The ever-smiling front-rower has thankfully kept the perennial injury bogey at bay, and that saw him building impressive momentum during the Stormers’ four-match winning start to the campaign.
But it just appeared as if Ntubeni was running out of a bit of steam against the Blues and Sharks, and that lack of spark from their usually bustling No 2 played a part in their successive defeats.
The 29-year-old has made 14 carries, mainly at close quarters, as well as four turnovers and 42 tackles in six matches. The Stormers lineout has been decent at 87 percent, which puts them eighth in the competition, while their scrum has been strong at 95 percent (fifth).
But Ntubeni has slipped nine tackles as well, which places him joint-second among hookers.
VERDICT: This is a tough call, as none of the hookers stand out head and shoulders from the rest. Van Vuuren has a good work-rate, but overall, Ntubeni has been better.
Statistics: super.rugby and foxsports.com.au