Lock, stock and smok­ing bar­rels

Sunday Times - - SPORT - KHANY­ISO TSH­WAKU

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

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