Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The Absa Currie Cup final boasts
many eye-catching individual duels ... immediately obvious ones being Messrs
Taute v Lambie at fullback, Jantjies v Michalak at flyhalf and a good old front-row
arm wrestle between Springbok squad-mates CJ van der Linde and Jannie du
But who performs the “Bakkies Botha” job
best could also have a crucial bearing in the outcome of Saturday’s showpiece
in Johannesburg (17:30).
That is even more pertinent because hosts
the Golden Lions, in the form of Wikus van Heerden, and defending champions the
Sharks, with Jean Deysel the personality in question, are fielding relative lock
novices in the No 4 jersey – particularly so in the latter’s case.
The position is often associated,
especially in South Africa where physicality is such an integral part of the
rugby culture, with “enforcement” ... a no-nonsense customer who will grapple
and growl at the set-piece and in the tight-loose, smash into rucks and provide
strong leg-drive in mauls.
His No 5 partner, meanwhile, tends to be
more the spring-heeled lineout specialist and “athlete” about the park, perhaps
allowed a little more liberty to sneak out onto the wing and get a cheeky head
of steam up or throw a dummy from time to time.
Until their recent separation after years
as a partnership for the Bulls and South Africa, Botha and Victor Matfield were
considered a dream alliance in that regard, without peer in world rugby.
At least the two lineout specialists on
Saturday – Franco van der Merwe of the Lions and Ross Skeate in the black and
white jersey, are well familiar with general second-row principles.
Notably less seasoned in lock play,
however, are No 4s Van Heerden and Deysel, both of whom have made their most
familiar first-class and occasionally international yards as blindside flanks.
In the case of the former, his has been one
of those near-natural progressions with age: it is not uncommon for No 7 flanks
to switch to the tight five as they lose some of their mobility and maybe even
bulk up a bit as the years go by.
It is also fitting in some respects that he
has made the swap – his father Moaner was an uncompromising, cowboys-don’t-cry
sort of customer in the Northern Transvaal and Springbok second row of the
1970s and early 1980s. (The lineout king alongside him then was almost always
the iconically bearded Louis Moolman.)
Van Heerden junior, aged 32, looks
reasonably settled these days at No 4 for a Lions franchise not exactly brimful
of quality lock specialists, and ought to be fancied to shade his battle with
That is because the Sharks player, some six
years his junior, has only converted particularly recently to service far more
at the heart of the engine room.
A Springbok-capped blindsider with a
reputation primarily as a fearless ball-carrier, Deysel having a brave stab at
lock under John Plumtree’s tutelage probably makes some sense – there is as
pretty well-rooted school of thought that he is a bit one-dimensional as a
loose forward with some shortcomings in the “skills” and peripheral vision
It may be an uphill battle for him to earn
significantly more Bok appearances in future, as the SA loose forward cupboard
is well stocked, as usual, with suitable emerging candidates and someone like
Juan Smith in comeback mode from long-term injury, for good measure, in 2012.
So Deysel’s experimentation in the second
row may prove to be in his interests, particularly as the national side begins
to contemplate a future without such gnarly old characters as Botha and Danie
Nevertheless, it is a tall order for him to
succeed ... and “tall” is the crux of it, really, as the very lack of a few
centimetres in height could be found to be a drawback.
Deysel has the necessary bulk factor (if he
does specialise at lock he may consciously aim to add some kilograms to his
110kg frame) and aggression levels, but at 1.91m he may struggle to truly
impose himself at the front of the lineout.
In that regard, a fairly similar-styled,
promising player like the Stormers’ Rynhardt Elstadt, who also made the switch
from flank a year or so back, has an advantage with his 1.98m frame, rather
closer to the kind of height sought in a conventional lock forward.
But Deysel is also not the sort of
character to let a side down or be too spooked by any form of disadvantage in
physical terms, and if he manages to get the better of the Van Heerden (1.94m,
incidentally) on Saturday it will be viewed as an important step in his
possibly altered development path ...