JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s new lineout king has arrived!
There can be no disputing the fact Franco Mostert has taken the mantle abdicated by Victor Matfield as the best No 5 lock in South Africa. And if he continues to perform at the level he’s been at in the last two years, there’s every chance he’ll be as good as Matfield was on his day.
And even the great former Springbok lock agrees that Mostert is on his way to greatness.
“His work-rate puts him ahead of all the other locks in the country,” said Matfield yesterday.
“And at 26, he’s only now maturing as a player. He will gain more and more confidence in himself as a leader now, knowing he is the man responsible for everything that happens in the pack. I, too, only really came into my own around that age.”
Mostert has been one of the stars of the Lions team of Johan Ackermann since joining from the Bulls in 2012.
At that stage he was playing mainly Varsity Cup rugby for Tukkies, but with some big names standing ahead of him in the lock queue at Loftus, he opted to join the Lions – a big gamble because he had an idea the team would be relegated from Super Rugby in 2013.
Ackermann, though, knew what potential Mostert had and told him he’d get more game-time at the Lions and the rest, as they say, is history. The specialist No 5 lock has become a Springbok, and a starter at that, and a key member of the Lions.
He showed all his class again on Saturday when he pinched two lineout throws of the Hurricanes in the Super Rugby semi-final at Ellis Park on Saturday when the Lions were under pressure and camped on their own tryline.
The home team would escape from that threat and go on to turn the game on its head and win 44-29. They will now face the Crusaders in Saturday’s final.
Matfield said he always had a suspicion Mostert would become a quality lock operator.
“As a 20-year-old playing Varsity Cup rugby and training with us at the Bulls, I thought he had something special about him... it was his work-rate that stood out for me.
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“There were some who questioned his size, but I was also quite light as a youngster, and knew that wouldn’t hold him back. And look at him now.”
Mostert doesn’t even hit the two-metre mark, standing 1.98m tall and tipping the scales at 103kg. But his mobility, his strong ball-carrying and tackle rate make him a standout player.
“He just doesn’t stop going, he’s so full of energy,” said Matfield. “He was outstanding against the Hurricanes, and you can see there must be plenty of hard work going into his game off the field.
“To make those steals required instinct and knowing where the ball was going to be thrown... doing quality analysis on the opposition of course helps with your instinct.”
Not only has Mostert formed a formidable second-row pairing with the unheralded, but equally effective Andries Ferreira at the Lions, he has also become a key man next to Eben Etzebeth in the Bok team.
“He is the perfect man for that job, an out-and-out No 5 who works hard and carries strongly... I can see him being there for a very long time,” said Matfield.
Saturday’s challenge will be Mostert’s toughest of the season, according to the former Bok star.
“The Crusaders are a class act, and there’s no doubt they have the best lineout in the competition. It’s going to be a big challenge,” he said.
With 16 lineout steals – to lead the way in that area of the game – and 49 takes when thrown to him in Super Rugby this year, Ackermann knows what a gem he has in Mostert.
“He’s come a long way since playing Varsity Cup rugby and getting through that serious car accident (in 2012). He’s a real leader for us in the pack, a team man and a work horse of note,” Ackermann said on the occasion of Mostert’s 50th Super Rugby match in March.
Mostert, like all his teammates, will hope to produce one more big performance this weekend... a Super Rugby title is, after all, on the line.