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Alberts v Elstadt: 1-ton duel
Cape Town - It is hardly a major secret that Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer favours brawny customers who thrive on physicality at blindside flank.
This is reflected to a good degree in the names he issued this week for a latest, 42-strong Springbok training group.
I am quite open to correction, but the order in which the loose forwards were named seemed to suggest fairly strongly that the Sharks pair of Willem Alberts and Jean Deysel (the former starts in the home Super Rugby derby against the Stormers on Saturday) are closest to the front of his mind for No 7 as things stand.
My understanding is also that Meyer is rightly worried about how various nuggety, conventional open-siders in South Africa and more broadly appear to be “targeted” by referees just because of who they are, any constructive poaches by them occasionally being negated by the accompanying volume of penalties against them for perceived indiscretions.
So he is not against moves by some franchises to field taller, yet still suitably mobile timber - players like CJ Stander of the Bulls and the Sharks’ Marcell Coetzee - on the open-side even if their roots do not lie in that specific area.
Revealingly, the Sharks have now stationed Coetzee at No 6 against the Stormers for the big clash at Mr Price Kings Park, with the more obviously heavy-duty Alberts, whose season had hitherto been curtailed by a niggling shoulder problem, getting a welcome start at blindside.
John Plumtree’s decision is likely to carry the enthusiastic blessing of the Bok mastermind, who appeared to list the dynamic, youthful Coetzee among his No 6s for the camp.
In what is highly likely to be a typically hard-as-nails derby, Alberts against Rynhardt Elstadt, the similarly bruising Stormers utility forward, in the battle of the blindsiders ought to be something to savour.
Certainly the more faint at heart might be advised to give this potential crash of freight trains a miss, and go and play the piano or water the plants come 19:10 on Saturday.
The abrasive style of the 119kg Alberts, who relishes crunching hits, is already well-known at all levels of the game - not for nothing is he nicknamed “The Bone Collector”.
But his rival No 7, Elstadt, who might be branded “The Mauler from Montagu” if you seek some kind of gung-ho counter, similarly loves the heat of the kitchen.
Elstadt did not make the Bok camp cut, but that may be partly because the 22-year-old is gradually finding his feet again back in the position after spending last year’s Super Rugby campaign as commendably efficient second-row partner for Andries Bekker.
The 2012 season has carried strangely mixed blessings thus far for Elstadt, whose lock credentials have inevitably taken a knock through the truly stellar emergence of Eben Etzebeth in the No 4 shirt.
But he has managed to stay an essential component in the starting mix anyway, considering the injury jinx at loose forward which has allowed his versatility to be very gratefully seized upon at No 7.
After an understandably moderate start to his return chapter as a loose forward, Elstadt appears to be going from strength to strength in the role now -- to such an extent that a firebrand showing at Mr Price Kings Park might yet see him fast-tracked into Bok plans.
At 118kg himself and 1.96m tall, he fulfils many of Meyer’s requirements for a blind-sider.
“Rynhardt has done an outstanding job for us (in that position),” Stormers coach Allister Coetzee enthused to Sport24 this week.
“It helps that he’s played there before, though last season we just felt he’d be better utilised as a front lock with his aggression, hitting of rucks and agility in the lineout.
“Ball-carrying, close targets ... he really did well last year. But when we were under pressure with loosie injuries this time, we knew we could bank on Rynhardt. He’s the sort of guy who would run at a wall if you told him to; he has a high pain threshold.
“With continual play back at No 7, he’s improved tremendously as the season’s gone on and he gives our squad the sort of versatile value someone like Danie Rossouw gave (to the Bulls and Springboks).”*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing