The Springboks eighthman in the Rassie Erasmus-Jacques Nienaber-era has, for the most part, been a real hard man, the type of player that can crack granite with a stare and whose nose has more corners than a mountain pass. But if ever Erasmus and Co look beyond that, for a No 8 with a full package of skills, then Francke Horn must surely be in that discussion.
The 24-year-old former Baby Bok had a barnstorming outing against Zebre on Saturday at Ellis Park, making telling contributions all around the field for the Lions and in every facet of play as the home side romped to a 61-19 victory in their United Rugby Championship clash.
He made his tackles, scrambled on defence, and worked hard at ruck-time but it was his attacking play that was near perfect.
He scored a try of his own in the clash, but showed his full talents - exhibiting his pace, vision, and soft skills - in their second try, scored by the always impressive Edwill van der Merwe. Horn showed some toe off the base of the scrum, and then his rugby nous to drop the ball onto his sinister left boot for an onrushing Van der Merwe to dot down beyond the whitewash.
BIG MAN! WILLEM ALBERTS!🎯 pic.twitter.com/RTkFnmIkyn— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) November 25, 2023
Nothing to write home about for Zebre
For sure, it helped that Zebre were rather poor in their play in the first half with the heat of the day bearing down on them. Far tougher examinations lie ahead but Horn has been consistently one of the best, if not best, Lions players on the park for the last few seasons; and that was on show again on Saturday.
Together with his teammates, they scored five tries in the first half against the Italian outfit, stitching up the encounter in the first stanza. Although Zebre allowed the Lions to play, the hosts were ruthless and clinical in their execution.
Most importantly, they were patient. They applied their pressure through the phases and never looked rushed in their decision-making.
Horn was also not the only player that made a notable impact in the victory. The entire team had a quality outing.
The axis of Player of the Match Morne van den Berg and Sanele Nohamba are building a lethal combination, marshalling the backline with accurate attacking plays. Krappie spent most of last season on the bench, but the No 9 is growing in confidence with every match and is becoming a consistent force, while supplying reliable possession at the breakdown.
Nohamba, meanwhile, keeps impressing at flyhalf, developing only positively with every minute that he plays in the No 10 jumper.
The Lions may have lost a bit of concentration in the second half – they were guilty of making a few more handling errors and losing their structure and discipline at the set-piece and maul – but they enjoyed the luxury of an unassailable lead. It saw Sevens specialist Simone Gesi complete his brace, with replacement fullback Jacop Trulla also scoring in the first 20 minutes of the second half for Zebre.
That could be considered a slight worry for head coach Ivan van Rooyen – who was in charge for his 100th match at this level - and his think tank, but truth be told, the Italians never really threatened the men in red, and the men in red never allowed them to do so.
Emirates Lions (33) 61” Tries: Kriel, Van der Merwe (2), F Horn, Q Horn, Van Wyk (2), Van den Berg, Tshituka; Conversions: Nohamba (7), Alberts
Zebre (7) 19: Tries: Gesi (2), Trulla; Conversion: Montemauri (2)