The loosehead props: Who is No 1 on the Springboks' team sheet?
We will assess the leading players this season at the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers, and make our final selection. In our final edition of a 15-part series, let’s look at loosehead prop…
Bulls: Lizo Gqoboka
He was probably the next loosehead prop in line for a World Cup call-up, but missed out in Japan. So, he needed to use 2020 to push for the No 1 jersey following Tendai Mtawarira’s retirement, and he has continued the consistent form that made him a Bok in the first place.
Not a particularly massive front-rower, it is Gqoboka’s physical strength that makes him stand out.
He makes a big impact in the tackle, and carries the ball strongly. The 30-year-old’s scrummaging is also underrated, and the Bulls have had a solid set-piece to work from this season.
Gqoboka has made 20 ball-carries in six matches, including three tackle-busts, as well as 25 tackles.
Lions: Dylan Smith
He has been a mainstay of the front row that reached three consecutive Super Rugby finals, but now Smith has to play a leadership role following the departure of a number of stalwarts. And it isn’t going well for the Lions, who have lost five out of six matches.
Despite his success with the Lions, the 26-year-old hasn’t really been mentioned when it comes to discussing Springbok contenders up to now, due to the number of quality No 1s around.
Could 2020 be his year? He has made a respectable 25 ball-carries in six matches, which puts him in sixth position among loosehead props in the competition.
Added to that, he has made 33 tackles. But the Lions scrum is ranked the lowest in the tournament with a scrum success rate of 81 percent.
Sharks: Ox Nche
He may be regarded by some Sharks fans as the ‘new Beast’, having moved from the Cheetahs to Durban following the departure of Tendai Mtawarira.
But the man whose first name is actually Retshegofaditswe has carved a niche for himself at the four-time Super Rugby finalists.
The 24-year-old has brought his usual energy and explosiveness to Sean Everitt’s team. He is always a willing ball-carrier, and has made 24 runs, which has resulted in four tackle-busts and three offloads.
He also pulled off a memorable long pass to set up Andre Esterhuizen’s try against the Stormers, while his considerable work-rate saw him make 35 tackles as well.
Nche has conceded five penalties, though, and while the relatively light Sharks pack do hold their own in the physical stakes, they don’t usually dominate in the scrums – they are second-last in the tournament with an 82 percent scrum success rate.
Stormers: Steven Kitshoff
The world champion couldn’t quite wrest the Springbok No 1 jersey away from Tendai Mtawarira, but is now making a compelling case that he should wear it going forward.
Renowned for his mobility as a front-rower, Kitshoff has a tournament-leading 41 ball-carries among loosehead props, which has equated to 186 running metres – also the most.
Seven tackle-busts and three line-breaks are not statistics that are usually associated with a prop either, while you can also add in 35 tackles.
The 28-year-old Kitshoff has been a rock in the scrums as well, with the Stormers earning a number of penalties, while the team have a 95 percent scrum success rate – the fifth-best in the competition.
VERDICT: All four contenders are worthy of playing Test rugby, but Steven Kitshoff is setting the green-and-gold standard at the moment.
Full Team: 15 Aphelele Fassi 14 Tyrone Green 13 Lukhanyo Am 12 Andre Esterhuizen 11 Makazole Mapimpi 10 Curwin Bosch 9 Herschel Jantjies 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit 6 James Venter 5 Hyron Andrews 4 Salmaan Moerat 3 Frans Malherbe 2 Scarra Ntubeni 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Statistics: super.rugby and foxsports.com.au