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    Tough next ‘exam’ for Koch

    2015-02-16 22:00

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – He has passed his first Super Rugby test with flying colours ... now can emerging Stormers strongman Vincent Koch tame a gnarly All Black?

    The commanding set-piece performance of the debut-making tighthead prop was one of the major talking points from the Capetonians’ minor upset of the Bulls at Loftus on Saturday.

    Also extremely active in open play, the 24-year-old, who is on loan from the Pumas until the Currie Cup – a deal some observers believe may swiftly change now – earned praise from at least one renowned Springbok and Stormers No 3 scrummager of yesteryear, Cobus Visagie.

    He said on Twitter (@Drieman3) during the derby: “Vincent Koch quite a revelation. Best technique I have seen for a while in SA rugby ... in my opinion Koch has probably doubled his market value in one game.”

    Koch was rock-steady at the set-piece against first Trevor Nyakane and then, after Werner Kruger’s injury forced the former Cheetahs favourite to the other side of the scrum, put the squeeze also on substitute Morne Mellett.

    If there is any risk at all of the young front-ranker from Empangeni getting ahead of himself after the glowing reports from Saturday’s game, it is likely to be quickly negated by the very knowledge that this weekend he should face one of the most seasoned looseheads imaginable worldwide in the shape of the Blues’ Tony Woodcock.

    The Auckland-based side visit Newlands on Saturday (17:05 start), probably smarting from running 2012 and 2013 champions the Chiefs very close but eventually playing second fiddle 23-18 at home in the first round.

    Despite the loss, their scrum looked pretty impressive, particularly once the Blues replaced starting tighthead Angus Taavao-Matau with another All Black in Charlie Faumuina – the bearded, 125kg six-footer -- in the second half.

    The return of Bok Frans Malherbe from injury rehabilitation is imminent, although there must be every chance Koch will remain at his starting berth for the challenge of grappling Woodcock, New Zealand’s most capped prop of all time.

    Malherbe, who has been groomed by national coach Heyneke Meyer as a possible long-term successor to veteran Jannie du Plessis for the all-important “right shoulder” at scrum-time, rejoined full squad training on Monday.

    A statement on the official Stormers website said: “(His) match fitness will dictate whether or not he comes into the selection mix against the Blues.”

    The match-day side is announced on Thursday, but there seems no need to rush Malherbe back too hastily; even youthful reserve props Oli Kebble and Wilco Louw shone in second-half appearances in Pretoria.

    Should he start, Koch could hardly wish for a more street-wise opponent, as sheep farmer Woodcock is the 34-year-old holder of 110 All Black caps since 2002 – though the last was in mid-2014 against England at Hamilton – and remembered also for notching what turned out to be their only but vital try against France in the unusually low-scoring (8-7) 2011 World Cup final.

    Koch’s fellow-prop Steven Kitshoff also pulled his weight effectively on the loosehead side against the Bulls – who continue to find the scrum their Achilles heel – and he may well be expecting Faumuina to start against him this Saturday after his oomph off the bench against the Chiefs.

    If the Stormers’ set-piece can sparkle once more against the fatherly likes of Woodcock and Faumuina, it will make all comers in Super Rugby sit up and take notice of their credentials both there and in other departments this year.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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