CAPE TOWN - How many other teams can boast the kind of second-row stocks the Springboks can? And the best part is that the Boks don’t just have them in numbers, but they have them in top quality as well.
So given their available options, it will be interesting to see who Bok coach Allister Coetzee picks as his second-row pairing - or who he picks to partner skipper Eben Etzebeth - when they kick off their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina on Saturday at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
As captain of the Boks, Etzebeth’s starting berth is obviously not in doubt (not like it was in doubt before his appointment as captain in the place of the injured Warren Whiteley), so who the Stormers vice captain aligns with for what is expected to be a tough lineout battle is a big selection call.
Etzebeth has been in top form with his franchise this season: from his lineout work to his bulldozing carries, to his driving-back tackles - he’s been all over.
His Stormers (and often Springbok) partner, Pieter-Steph du Toit has seemingly been able to get himself out of the hole he stepped into during the series against France in June, when the South African Player of the Year took quite a bit of criticism for his performances, especially in terms of his defence.
He looked better with the Stormers after the international break - maybe not as good as he did when he started being hailed as one of the best No 5 locks in the world, perhaps second only to New Zealand’s Sam Whitelock - but certainly better.
It’s Du Toit’s manic work rate all over the park and his ability to manoeuvre a lineout like few can that has made this huge talent such an asset. But if there’s one thing more important than talent, it’s talent on form. And the Lions’ Franco Mostert has sure been on form.
Du Toit featured off the bench in all three of the Boks’ Tests against France, with Coetzee opting for an Etzebeth and Mostert combination, and that big call by Coetzee turned out to be completely justified as Mostert, whose performances with the Lions were downright outstanding, has impressed in the Springbok set-up.
Mostert has been an almost magnetic presence in the Lions’ set-piece, making a number of telling steals into the bargain. With the Boks he was an absolute tight-five workaholic as he steered the lineouts, hit the rucks and produced a monster effort on defence, and he did all that in only his second Test start. In fact, it’s like the guy just doesn’t get tired - he works hard and he works hard for 80 minutes.
Then there’s Bulls lock Lood de Jager. The 2015 SA Rugby Player of the Year hasn’t emulated his form from two years ago, and his season this year hasn’t been extraordinary.
It should also be said that Etzebeth and Du Toit have been considered one of the most potent lock pairings in world rugby, and it was never hard to see why.
But Etzebeth and Mostert, in my opinion, can do real damage against the Argentinians this weekend. So, with all the options at lock Coetzee has at his disposal, I hope it’s Etzebeth and Mostert that get to rule the lineout come Saturday.