Boks lock in fresh faces for international season

Ruan Nortje of Vodacom Bulls. | BackpagePix

Ruan Nortje of Vodacom Bulls. | BackpagePix

Published Mar 11, 2024


Leighton Koopman

The Springboks’ first alignment camp of the year concluded last week and the 43 players who were invited would have been eager to impress ahead of a busy international season that kicks off in June.

Coach Rassie Erasmus invited a mixture of young and experienced players, with no European or fit Japan-based players available. This past week, Independent Newspapers has looked at the backs and loose-forwards who had the chance to state their case at the camp, and today we look at the locks.

It’s another area where South African rugby overflows with top-class players, locally and abroad. Erasmus will have plenty of players to select from come the June and July Tests against Wales, Ireland, and Portugal.

Versatility is probably the big plus for the Boks amongst their locks. Most of them can transition between the back of the front-row and shifting to the side if needed. It will be a headache at selection time for Erasmus, especially looking at the overseas locks that still need to come into the reckoning later in the year.

Although Lood de Jager and Franco Mostert did not attend the camp, they will be the No 1 and No 2 locks during the international season, but there is scope for freshness against Portugal and Wales.

Ruan Nortje of Vodacom Bulls. | BackpagePix
Ruben van Heerden of the Stormers. | BackpagePix

The No 5 lock

Ruan Nortjé: He will be eager to continue his form as the Bulls progress through the United Rugby Championship, and he looks like the next five-lock in line for the Springboks. Nortje has all the attributes to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, and the way he disrupts the line-outs of his opponents is what Bok rugby is all about.

But he is also showing some excellent soft skills with the ball in hand, and at the highest level he will only be able to refine it more. There’s nothing wrong with his work rate on defence and his physicality is where Erasmus would want it to be.

Ruben van Heerden: Another strong line-out reader and jumper. He saved the Stormers from sticky situations in a handful of games over the last one and a half seasons, and the Bok coaches took note. Like Nortjé, he is a good prospect and shows the goods to take over from the experienced five-locks.

Apart from his line-out prowess, he works hard off the ball on defence and at ruck time. He will have another half of a season to impress the coaches further state his Bok case.

No 4 lock

Eben Etzebeth of Sharks. | BackpagePix
Salmaan Moerat of Stormers. | BackpagePix

Eben Etzebeth: He hasn’t played the amount of rugby this season that he probably would’ve wanted, but on the flip side, it will prolong his international career if anything.

The Boks’ enforcer will be raring to go when the Irish hit South African shores later this year. He would’ve been instrumental during the alignment camp to carry over the message to all of the new locks in the absence of the other experienced line-out men. But what he offers the Boks, no one will come close to in the next coming seasons, although there are a few prospects at franchise level.

Salmaan Moerat: The Stormers captain missed last year’s World Cup due to injury, and the start of the season when he injured himself in the first URC clash.

He will hope that his long list of breaks is a thing of the past and that he can focus on fulfilling his potential at Bok level. Just like Etzebeth, he enjoys the physical side of the game, and judging by how he has been doing since his return to the Stormers, there is no sign of him letting up on being an enforcer. Moerat also provides the option of playing five-lock even though his preferred position is at four.

Related Topics: