JOHANNESBURG – It wasn’t that long ago that he was at school and looking up to the likes of the famous Bulls heroes Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha ... and a very well-known All Black, too.
On Saturday at Loftus Versfeld, young Lions lock Reinhard Nothnagel will get a chance to test himself against a few other hardened and well-respected Bulls locks, Springboks Jason Jenkins and RG Snyman. It’s a prospect that excites the 21-year-old.
“Definitely excited,” he said this week ahead of the final round-robin game of this year’s Super Rugby competition.
“What a great opportunity to play against those guys, RG and Jenkins. They’re pretty renowned locks, and just going to Loftus where Bakkies and Victor became the best pairing in world rugby; it’s great.”
After a few appearances off the bench, Nothnagel made his first start for the Lions in Super Rugby against the Hurricanes last week. His chance has come because of injuries to more senior Lions men like Lourens Erasmus and Stephan Lewies.
He said he couldn’t quite believe he was running out for the Lions in Super Rugby right now.
“Five to six weeks ago I’d never have thought I’d be playing Super Rugby ... to get this opportunity is so exciting. It really is every child’s dream to play for their union and in Super Rugby.”
Nothnagel had an interesting take of his first experience of playing Super Rugby against a New Zealand team - last week against the Hurricanes.
“They were smart, and I think I learned a lot from them,” he said.
“I don’t want to say they don’t play according to the laws, but they bend them the whole time. And, they seem to get away with it; maybe it’s why the All Blacks are the best in the world. They push the boundary the whole time.”
And he added that All Blacks star lock Sam Whitelock was his big hero. “He’s won everything there is in the game, and growing up I looked up to him and the way he plays. He’s a line-out captain, he’s got a physical presence at the breakdown, he’s a leader on and off the field, and I admire that.”
This week though it’s the Bulls and a place in the quarter-finals that are on the mind of the Lions rookie and he admitted a big task lay ahead for his team.
“The Bulls are on a high. They had an amazing tour, they’re fifth on the log, and for us, it’s a must-win game. It’s going to be tough.”
Indeed, and the Lions will be without, among other key experienced men, in-form No 8 Kwagga Smith. But, Nothnagel said the Lions were good enough to overcome the setback.
“We still have an amazing pack, and the guys coming in are close to playing at the same level as say Kwagga and Warren (Whiteley).
“Losing Kwagga this week is a big loss; he’s an inspirational player and has been great for us this season, but we prefer to take the setbacks and change them into positives. Look at how well guys like Vincent (Tshituka) and Marnus (Schoeman), and other players, have done ... they’re all very capable. We must stop looking at who is out, and rather back the young guy coming in.”
Lions boss Swys de Bruin will name his team for the Bulls match today.@jacq_west