JOHANNESBURG – It’s possibly taken a little longer than he would have liked, but Johannes Jonker has finally established himself as a key front-row man for the Emirates Lions.
He might not be the first-choice just yet, but he’s become an integral member of the Lions squad, and with Carlu Sadie the two specialist tighthead props have ensured the Lions have remained one of Super Rugby’s best scrumming units.
Whether the Lions have opted to go with first choice starters - Sadie and loosehead star Dylan Smith - or the back-up guys in Jonker and Sti Sithole - the three-time Super Rugby runners-up have quite comfortably dealt with the loss of stalwarts, like the now departed Ruan Dreyer and Jacques van Rooyen, who are both playing overseas.
The 24-year-old Jonker, who joined the Lions from Border in 2016, said his journey to where he is today had played a big part in his development as a top-class and respected prop.
And it’s some story, which includes his scrumming with and against some of this country’s most feared front-row men.
“I played in the Border and after finishing school (at Hudson Park High) there were a few offers from big unions for me to join them, but I opted to stay home, for family reasons,” said Jonker this week.
“But then (former coach) Johan Ackermann phoned me and made me an offer, and I couldn’t ignore it. I played a good few games then for the Lions in 2017 and at the end of that year, I got the chance to play for Montpellier in France.
“Playing with Jannie and Bismarck (du Plessis), and all the other senior guys there, was great. I learned so much ... their tricks of the trade, how they go about what they do, what their routine is on a Monday morning, and after a game on a Saturday, things like that. I was able to take all of that in, which was great."
For the first time ever, two South African Vodacom Super Rugby teams partake in the #HandshakeChallenge. Thank you to the DHL Stormers in joining us in the fantastic cause!#LionsPride #LIOvSTO pic.twitter.com/gUXqV19t2D— Emirates Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) June 1, 2019
Jonker said it had been a challenge to uphold the reputation the Lions had created through their strong front-row men, like Dreyer, Jacques van Rooyen and Julian Redelinghuys before them.
“Of course, the guys who were here until last year taught me and the other guys who are here now, what we know. We’ve had to come in and fill their shoes, but also try to be better than they were. They made their mark here and the challenge for us was to improve on it.
“Everyone knows the Lions take a lot of pride in their scrum and the set-pieces; its’ been like that for years. We just try to be stronger and better each week.”
So far this year the Lions scrum has again been one of the competition’s best. But they face another new test this weekend when the Hurricanes visit Ellis Park in a crucial Round 17 match and you can be sure Jonker and his big friend, Sithole, who’re both likely to warm the bench, will play a big role in the match.
“You know for us ‘proppies’ the first scrum is massive ... and if we can win a penalty, it makes the rest of the game a lot easier; we can then focus on other things.
“Getting that early dominance is key ... it’s what we love, and then it’s happiness for the rest of the game.”@jacq_west