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    Franco: Lions’ unsung hero

    2015-06-08 15:15

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - Sometimes you wonder how Franco Mostert feels when he hears mutterings like “there’s a shortage of No 5 locks for the Boks this year”.

    It is difficult to believe it sits too comfortably ... but then again the Lions’ second-row workhorse extraordinaire also seems one of those uncomplaining warriors of Super Rugby and Currie Cup trench warfare.

    He is the proverbial good employee who never throws a sickie. Heck, it is possible he’s never even asked for a pay rise. He just gets on with it, as they say.

    The Lions have been the feel-good, underdog story of the SA conference this season, even if they came up just short after a great crack at the playoffs cut.

    They will be the only team experiencing a rather cruel last-round bye this week, which may even do them the injustice of their current seventh position overall turning to eighth if the once-legendary Crusaders get a good result against the Brumbies and bump them down a notch.

    But boy, will the Lions have earned their break, regardless of their eventual placing.

    Nobody can take away what a passionate, often high-quality tournament they have had, one that only ended with them bashing away furiously at the conference-winning Stormers’ line at Newlands to try to turn the 19-19 stalemate into another famous triumph.

    And to think this writer had had the temerity to suggest the Lions’ legs might finally buckle in the derby under the strain of over-play - most notably in the case of someone like Mostert - in the competition.

    Instead it was a sea of Stormers bodies lying strewn about the in-goal area at full-time after several minutes of necessary, herculean defence to clinch the local spoils.

    Impressive coach Johan Ackermann had admitted at least a fortnight ago that some of his staple pack personnel – with skipper Warren Whiteley and Mostert probably the closest to over-heating – were badly overdue for a break which he simply couldn’t offer them as their first-time finals series chase gathered steam.

    Instead the collective, eye-catching conditioning and stubborn resolve of the Lions showed absolutely no signs of wavering right up to their confirmed, plucky “KO” as contenders at Newlands.

    Throughout the season, the 24-year-old, Welkom-born Mostert has been a bastion of reliability for the Jo’burgers.

    He is not “flash”, as he perhaps lacks the levels of pure athleticism commanded by the likes of veteran Victor Matfield and currently absent young heir apparent to the Springbok No 5 shirt, Pieter-Steph du Toit.

    But in terms of Super Rugby performance in 2015 that is his only crime, for want of a better word.

    If he often seems less visible or wow-inducing than others in open play, it is only because he does so much of his tireless donkeywork at unglamorous, close quarters, helping to earn those smaller yards that often tilt tight rugby matches in the final analysis.

    Mostert is never far from a ruck clean-out, seldom absent when an in-field enemy sniper unwisely fancies a crack at the Lions’ first-line defence, and often at the very fulcrum of their diesel-engined rolling mauls.

    Nor is he any slouch at the lineout, where he consistently bags his own ball and will sometimes either poach or vitally spoil possession on the rival hooker’s throw.

    Maybe his vital statistics aren’t deemed sufficiently striking for international purposes: he stands just below the two-metre mark and his weight is variously given as 104kg or 110kg, with the truth possibly lying somewhere in between.

    That said, he wouldn’t be the leanest rake ever to wear a Bok lock jersey - remember 51-cap Albert van den Berg? - and Mostert anyway seems every bit a heavyweight in a cruiserweight’s body.

    There are certain in-your-face, enforcer qualities about him, and if could earn public praise from a certain Bakkies Botha a couple of years back, you are hardly painting a picture of a shrinking violet.

    Nor can Mostert be the worst of scrummagers, when you consider that the Lions held their own sturdily in that department to end a gung-ho series of notably dominant showings from the Stormers against other foes.

    The guy just goes and goes ... chew for a second on the remarkable statistic that he has apparently played 1,270 of the 1,280 minutes (16 matches) used in total by the Lions.

    Mostert is also bubbling under the current tournament top 10s in key areas: for example, he has made 143 tackles, which places him a mere one outside that exclusive club, won 38 lineouts (three short of top-10 recognition) and made 123 carries.

    A survivor in 2013 of a serious motor accident, you might say there are similarities to another frenzied competitor in Schalk Burger for having stared death in the face and resisted it; you can only suspect it enhances any feeling of invincibility on a rugby field. 

    Dearth of Test-calibre No 5s?

     Hmm, the Boks could do a lot worse than examine the many strengths - not least of them an all-important stout heart and unfailing stamina - of Franco Mostert if an hour of need arises.

    Mostert has not yet been deemed necessary to requirements in two, 44-man training Bok training camps in his own base camp of the Big Smoke, and then more recently Cape Town.

    Perhaps there is still time for a change of heart from Heyneke Meyer, who will have witnessed Mostert only raising his personal game further since his snubbing from those groups.

    You’d have expected absolutely nothing less from this Trojan character.

     *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    Read More On:  lions super 15 johannesburg rugby

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