Four forwards hoping to power SA teams to victory

Asenathi Ntlabakanye of the Lions. | BackpagePix

Asenathi Ntlabakanye of the Lions. | BackpagePix

Published Mar 20, 2024


Mike Greenaway

South Africa’s URC teams return to action this weekend and there is plenty at stake for the Bulls, Lions and Stormers.

There are play-off positions at stake while for the fourth local franchise, the Sharks, it is all about finding form as they switch their focus to winning the Challenge Cup.

Here, Independent Newspapers looks at four forwards with everything to play for.

Asenathi Ntlabakanye of the Lions. | BackpagePix

Asenathi Ntlabakanye of the Lions

The big fellow would have been disappointed to be left out of the recent Bok alignment camp. He certainly has the form and has been a massive presence for the Lions and is difficult to ignore.

At one point Ntlabakanye weighed 153kg but his ability to shift the opposition in the scrum is only part of his repertoire. It is his hunger for the cover tackle that has Ellis Park fans on their feet whenever the tighthead prop is close to the action.

The 24-year-old is a character and says he licks his chops when he spots a backline player in his sights. He will be keen to state his case against Connacht in Galway.

Eben Etzebeth of the Sharks. | Backpagepix

Eben Etzebeth of the Sharks

The big fellow has been watching from the stands as his team stumbles about in the cellar of the URC and now he can do something about it. It is not just the class he brings to the set-up but also the inspiration he will give his fellow forwards.

Confidence is in short supply at the Shark Tank and the South African Player of the Year for 2023 radiates belief. Coach John Plumtree will be thrilled that Etzebeth’s rest period is over and he can be deployed against Ulster.

Deon Fourie of the Stormers. | BackpagePix

Deon Fourie of the Stormers

The 37-year-old was conspicuous by his absence from the Bok alignment camp and there was conjecture that his Springbok race was run.

However, Bok coach Rassie Erasmus has subsequently said that Fourie was not required to do duty at the camp because the veteran could not be more aligned in what the Boks do.

In short, he was given a break and Rassie says he will “always be in the selection frame”, Fourie can reward the national team coach’s faith in him by delivering for the Stormers in a tricky fixture against Scottish side Edinburgh. The home team needs to get back on the horse after their big defeat to the Bulls and Fourie is the one to lead the charge.

Mpilo Gumede of the Bulls. | BackpagePix

Mpilo Gumede of the Bulls

The 23-year-old was another fresh face at the alignment camp and was rewarded for some bright displays for the Bulls.

Dare we say he is yet another former Shark to prosper after leaving Durban, along with Manie Libbok, Sanele Nohamba, Leolin Zas, Marius Louw, Evan Roos and Ruben van Heerden.

Gumede, who was schooled at Durban High School, played in the all-conquering Sharks Under-19 side that boasted Roos, Nohamba, Dylan Richardson, Phepsi Buthelezi and Boeta Chamberlain.

Jake White has backed him since he transferred to Pretoria and he has impressed with his devastating hand-offs and silky offloads. He will be eager to continue the momentum he is enjoying.