Bekker easily tops lock pile

2011-04-18 12:16
Andries Bekker (Gallo)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – If you based it purely on the very reasonable grounds of sparkling form in 2011, Andries Bekker would have to be the first second-row name to be pencilled in if a Springbok team was suddenly summoned to action for a key Test match tomorrow.

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As much as he quite literally does at 2.08m in stature anyway, the Stormers No 5 presently stands taller – no, make that way taller -- than any other on a strangely faltering list of South African locks.

It is a department the country has mostly been able to pride itself upon in recent years, especially with Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha for so long considered planet-wide by many judges as the best “firm” in the game, and there having been no lack of quality candidates in their immediate slipstream.

But how the mighty have fallen: not only has this alliance lost its lustre at a worrying rate of knots for the tottering Bulls in Super Rugby, but this area of play has slumped more broadly in South African terms as New Zealand and Australian sides – mostly in the compelling shape of the Crusaders and Reds – set the pace for standards and energy at the midway mark of this year’s regular-season campaign.

Just think about it: although Matfield did, for the record, just about lift his own sluggish game a gear in the champions’ latest defeat to the Reds in Brisbane (remember that Matfield normally prides himself on “perfection”), his supposed “enforcer” partner remained as oddly anonymous as the shy boy at the back of the class.

Not only were the Bulls beaten collectively, they were certainly eclipsed in just about every facet of second-row play by the home pairing of James Horwill and Rob Simmons ... just as Matfield and Botha had played second fiddle to Brad Thorn and Chris Jack only a week earlier.

Some element of silver lining, admittedly, came when Danie Rossouw replaced Botha in the second half at Suncorp Stadium and the veteran utility campaigner injected a bit of necessary ballast and urgency to the losing cause.

And whilst the Sharks lurk reasonably menacingly in second place on the SA conference table, their lineout has been a less than brilliant aspect of their armoury, with Steven Sykes and Alistair Hargreaves thus not exactly breaking down the door to be noticed as Bok material despite their pretty good industry outside of that key set-piece.

The basement-level Cheetahs and Lions don’t exactly burst with international-class lock material at this stage ... so that leaves just the Stormers to consider.

And at least in that SA conference-topping franchise lies a lock who is taking his personal game ever-northward rather than on some slippery descent to obscurity, in the form of Bekker.

In October two years ago, I remember penning a piece criticising Bekker’s rather “show pony” play (my view, anyway) as the Lions beat Western Province 27-25 in a Currie Cup thriller at Coca-Cola Park.

My argument then was that, despite the unusually rangy player showing up eye-catchingly in open play, he had slightly neglected his chores in the engine room, where the Lions earned an advantage that was critical to their edging the affair.

On Saturday, Bekker was wearing a Stormers jersey in a different competition, but the opponents and venue were the same: only this time the Cape side prevailed – comfortably enough in scoreboard terms even if that didn’t wholly tell the story of the hosts’ fighting spirit and occasional suggestions they might nick or at least share the spoils instead.

And the big No 5, this time, turned in a thoroughly convincing performance in every respect ... as he has done for much of the Super Rugby season thus far, including getting the better of direct rival and more senior Springbok colleague Matfield at Loftus on March 19.

The big difference here was that not only did man-of-the-match Bekker continue to “roam” with customary zeal – his long-striding midfield bursts provide a bit of handy attacking X-factor – but he did not shirk his responsibilities this time at the coalface, where his work-rate was terrific.

Bekker was the best lineout forward on view by a country mile, and is arguably now better even than the once-peerless Matfield in this area: the latter, this season, has strangely ceased to be such a destructive “poaching” factor on the enemy throw.

Let’s face it, if you take lineout play out of Matfield’s game, he is sometimes open to criticism that the other elements to his second-row makeup can be modest – on Saturday Bekker was probably more prominent in any chosen 20 minutes of general play than the Bulls stalwart was over a full 80 against the Reds.

Indeed, with an altogether more rugged, muscular component to his game these days, there is a case for arguing that Bekker could, indeed, be partnered by Matfield anew for the Boks, even if some regard them as too “similar” in style.

I would not be so stupid or disrespectful to suggest that Matfield and Botha are goners as far as Test rugby is concerned: their status among the great combos in the game is pretty much assured.

But they need to buck up over the next few weeks and months, and quite hugely, if they are to convince the nation that they are the right lock medicine for the World Cup defence.

Right now Andries Bekker has stolen a march, and then some.

Bok team tomorrow? My second-row pairing would be Bekker with Rossouw ...

POST SCRIPT from the Sport24 editorial team .... It would seen that the Sport24 readers agree with Rob ... Well when it comes to Andries Bekker that is. According to votes in our Sport24 Team of the Tournament gizmo, Bekker is the man readers want to see in the number 4 jersey ...

Read more on:    andries bekker  |  boks

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