Lock, stock and smoking barrels
EBEN Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Lood de Jager aren’t the type who trade on reputations. International rugby doesn’t allow for that when you’re off your game. However, their reputations have been tossed aside this season despite their class.
In the respective South African Super Rugby derbies, they were cut down to size by their Lions and Sharks counterparts.
While De Jager hasn’t faced the Sharks, the Lions lock pairing of Andries Ferreira and Franco Mostert made him a passenger during the Lions’ 51-14 clouting of the Bulls on May 20.
Du Toit and Etzebeth were also comfortably outplayed by Ferreira and Mostert when the Lions ransacked the Stormers in Cape Town on April 15.
The same applied when the Sharks beat the Stormers 22-10 in Durban last week when Ruan Botha and Stephan Lewies took turns to disrupt the Stormers’ dysfunctional set-piece.
Former Springbok, Bulls and Sharks lock Marco Wentzel said this shouldn’t be a cause for concern because the incumbents are different beasts when they are in national colours.
“While Pieter-Steph and Eben are our two first-choice locks, they haven’t been up to the mark this year and we haven’t seen them perform the way we’ve seen them previously. I’m pretty sure though when it comes to the tests the guys will turn it up and they’ll be back to their best,” Wentzel said.
“They’ve got test match track records and I think when they’re not at their best, you have to give them some leniency. There’s a big difference between Super Rugby and test match rugby and at some stage they were the world’s best. At least now we know we have very good back-up in the event they don’t do well.”
France’s Yoann Maestri, 29, is a clear and present danger for the Springboks, especially if the Boks’ main attacking weapon becomes dysfunctional.
Like his SA counterparts, the Toulouse lock is not only physically imposing but tends to raise his game when the stakes are highest. When faced with the likes of England’s George Kruis, Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes, Maestri raised his game to stratospheric levels.
The absence of Sebastien Vaahamahina will amplify the amount of work Maestri will have to get through.
There is also the significant matter of the playing time Maestri has got because of the Top 14.
Former Springbok, Bulls and Stormers lock Hottie Louw had the same concerns about the amount of game time Du Toit and Etzebeth have put together in a difficult campaign for the Cape franchise.
“You can’t take the class away from those three locks because they’re natural athletes and they will find some form at some point,” Louw said. “I do believe though they’re playing far too much rugby because they started out at a young age and the knocks they took at an early professional age will start to catch up with them.”
PERFECT AND MOBILE: Pieter-Steph du Toit offers more than height
ROUGH AND TUMBLE: Eben Etzebeth is a tried and tested second rower