Willem Alberts locked, ready to unload
Whether it is on attack or defence, in the Currie Cup, Super Rugby or at Test level, from the second row, loosies or the bench, the body count will be high, and the bones collected.
That is the epitome of Willem Alberts’ game plan, his smashmouth style reminding the opposition that he is present and every run, every tackle, every bruising encounter could well be the coup de grace that consigns the opposing team to defeat.
Now in the twilight of his career, the “Bone Collector” was somewhat of a surprise inclusion this past week in the Joburg-based team’s starting XV to take on his former team the Sharks tomorrow in the opening fixture of Super Rugby Unlocked. The former Springbok, holder of 43 Test caps, will start at lock instead of his usual position among the loose-forwards, and will add much needed weight and grunt to the Lions pack - a facet of their game that was sorely missed earlier this year.
But that is what the presence of Alberts presents to coach Ivan van Rooyen: Powerful options. It was a notion supported by Van Rooyen on Tuesday at the team announcement.
Said the coach: “Just having (Alberts) in the system is unbelievable. What he brings to the team, what he brings to the team room, what he brings to the team meetings as a guy off the field, is immense for us. He is a great character to have around he understands what we want from him. He is very comfortable with what he can bring We feel, especially with the Sharks pack and the way they play, a bit of grunt can never hurt.”
Alberts is well versed in the mechanics of the second row, and he will need all his available faculties to repay Van Rooyen’s faith.
The 36-year-old veteran will face a stiff test against his former team. The powerful duo of Ox Nche and Thomas du Toit will be packing down at the front of the Sharks scrum, while the pacemen of Phepsi Buthelezi and Sikhumbuzo Notshe will need to be subdued. In the backline, he will need to intimidate Curwin Bosch and Sharks captain Lukhanyo Am in the midfield.
Alberts will fulfil the team’s role as enforcer, that much is clear, in whatever position on-or-off the field he occupies and a solid showing this weekend, composed of those trademark runs, and crunching tackles against the Sharks, could well be the tonic required to bring the Lions forwards together this season.
Fortuitously for the Lions, with fellow old-hand Jaco Kriel and the returning Dylan Smith and Ruan Dreyer, Alberts will help add that extra dimension of much needed experience and power to the forwards’ battle at Kings Park. Add in the rising status of youngster Carlu Sadie and the belligerence of Marvin Orie, with the exciting skills and pace of Vincent Tshituka and later off the bench that of Hacjivah Dayimani, and the Lions now boast a good splattering of youth, knowledge, power and speed.
And while Van Rooyen admitted that Albert was perhaps not ready for a full 80 minutes, the coach remained nonplussed. The burly forward has a job to do and his performance will be key if the Lions are to dominate.
As grizzled as he may be, Alberts still has a few more bones to collect, and the Joburg-based team are his ferryman to do so.