Vodacom Super Rugby
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Fourie: SA’s number two No 2?
Cape Town – Deon Fourie has been wearing the No 2 jersey for the Stormers with such aplomb this season that he has almost certainly vaulted his way to second-best performing South African hooker in Super Rugby thus far.
Of course Springbok incumbent Bismarck du Plessis has been producing consistently high levels of personal industry for the Sharks: it has been through little fault of his own that the Durban franchise have lost three games on the trot after a roaring start.
But the livewire Fourie is neck-and-neck with him for prowess in the South African conference -- and also more broadly in the competition in his specialist position -- as the unbeaten Stormers currently command loftiest log position in both respects.
Indeed, the Cape side’s lineout has been firing significantly better than the Sharks’ equivalent, so that must be another feather in Fourie’s cap in many ways.
The Cheetahs, it must be said, have been hampered by the broken hand suffered by their own international hooker Adriaan Strauss, but nobody at the other South African teams can be said to have jumped out for true “wow” factor in the No 2 shirt thus far.
And the seamless way in which the supposed back-up hooker Fourie has slotted in, after first-choice Tiaan Liebenberg damaged medial ligaments in a knee in the pre-season friendly against Boland, has been at least one key reason for the Stormers’ early-season surge.
Bear in mind that when the 24-year-old product of Pietersburg High was hastily introduced to the team’s starting plans at the outset of the competition, he had just come off a layoff himself.
There were also some fears that when Fourie, who at 100kg surrenders some 10kg to the more renowned scrummager and tight-loose bulldozer Liebenberg, entered the middle of the front row the Stormers’ set-piece (still the subject of some question marks at the time) would be further compromised.
Yet the scrum generally withstood acid tests from the Bulls and Sharks, in particular, whilst Fourie has always been highly regarded anyway for the dynamism and mobility he offers in open play.
Coach Allister Coetzee traces his rise back to last season, when the luckless Liebenberg was also bedevilled by injury.
“Deon’s personal growth as a hooker, for me, really came in the 2010 Currie Cup when he stepped up a notch as we won seven matches in a row and also got to the final; his development continues to be really, really pleasing this year,” he told Sport24.
“His leadership qualities are also shining through nicely – he’s in charge of our scrums, you know, and maintaining our benchmarks and accuracy levels there.”
Coetzee concedes that there has been “a perception” that Fourie would not be as effective a scrummager as his older and more street-wise squad-mate.
“It’s ironic ... I obviously chat to (forwards coach) Matt Proudfoot all the time and he keeps insisting to me that Deon is actually very good at scrum time. He’s got sound technique; you don’t see his head popping up very often, do you?
“So Deon is not only showing that he offers great impact potential coming off the bench ... he’s a genuinely quality starter now. And that’s what you want in a (squad): as many good starters as possible.”
The coach acknowledges, too, that until recent months many critics were likelier to have compared Fourie more with a “run-around” hooking predecessor at Newlands like Schalk Brits, than others with reputations for unglamorous donkeywork at the coalface.
Fourie continues to exhibit a penchant for panache on the run -- as evidenced by his wonderful solo, kick-and-chase try against the Western Force recently -- but is also mixing up his game most effectively.
“Absolutely, Deon is not one to stand back from the tight chores; he is a man just as prepared to operate in the trenches for you,” Coetzee points out.
“Don’t forget also that he can operate very well, when the situation may demand it, in an open-side flank capacity. We’ve seen him operate successfully there, and it is also why he makes good decisions at breakdown and turns over balls for us.
“Tiaan is about three weeks away for us, and working extremely hard. He knows he will return to healthy competition ...”