WATCH: Could this be Lizo Gqoboka’s year? A good Rainbow Cup could see him back in the Test frame
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CAPE TOWN - Having only started playing rugby at the age of 19, Lizo Gqoboka is a bit of a late bloomer.
He has also had to show incredible patience in making his breakthrough to top-level rugby, with a number of seasons at Eastern Province before getting into the big time and Super Rugby once he moved to the Bulls in 2016.
Established as the No 1 in Pretoria, Gqoboka earned two Springbok caps in 2019, but missed out on the Rugby World Cup squad, where the greater versatility of first Trevor Nyakane and then injury replacement Thomas du Toit was preferred.
But perhaps Gqoboka’s time will come this year, following Tendai Mtawarira’s retirement. Steven Kitshoff is undoubtedly the first in-line for the Bok No 1 jersey, but a top Rainbow Cup South Africa campaign could see the Bulls frontranker back in the Test frame.
The carrot of the British & Irish Lions series looms large, and the 31-year-old loosehead prop hopes to catch the eye of Bok coach Jacques Nienaber, starting against the Lions at Loftus on Saturday.
“I think every athlete, every rugby player would love to play against the British & Irish Lions. It’s such a massive privilege and such a great series … it comes once after 12 years,” Gqoboka said.
“So, to even have an opportunity to be involved is a massive blessing and definitely a motivation to work hard and give myself the best chance to make the team. And yeah, that’s what I’m focusing on at the moment – just making sure that I am fit and do well here at the Bulls.
“Hopefully the Springbok selectors will get me in. If not, then I know that I (have) given everything I have, and it’s out of my control.”
His progress was hampered by a problematic calf injury last season, but he now feels in top shape after “working hard on my conditioning.”
Gqoboka was a rock in the Bulls scrum when he did play last season, but will face another serious test of his technical abilities against the Lions. Jannie du Plessis, at 38, knows every trick of the “dark arts”, while Carlu Sadie is a powerhouse tighthead at 125kg.
But the Bulls man has some inside knowledge on Du Plessis, after they spent some time together at Montpellier in 2019.
“Jannie is a very smart scrummager. You feel when you scrum against him, it’s not only just power ... he’s technically sound, so I enjoy scrumming against him. I’m sure he knows what I bring, and I know what he brings, but with such experience, he will always have something in the back pocket. And that’s what makes it exciting,” Gqoboka said.
“The Lions scrum is very good, very experienced … good system.
It’s always a nice challenge to scrum against them, because you know that you can’t relax. Each and every scrum is a war, every scrum. You have to show up and concentrate.”