Big final shift by Franco? Bet on it

    2016-08-05 12:13

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – It could probably be in any universe. Or on any planet. It could certainly be in either hemisphere or any continent of our own.

    But there’s one thing you can unfailingly depend on in this increasingly volatile world: a really solid, blood-and-guts day at the rugby office from Franco Mostert.

    Expect it to be no different when the Lions’ second-row gladiator, a man seemingly sporting no “idle” option to his gear-stick, goes into battle for his beloved red-and-white cause supposedly one last time at Super Rugby level in the Vodacom Super Rugby against the Hurricanes on Saturday.

    It’s a massive occasion for both sides, neither of whom has yet won the title in its post-1995 “fully professional” formats … and yes, of course there will probably be that key little bit of extra pre-clash fire in Mostert’s belly.

    Then again, the wild-haired No 5 traditionally goes at 100 percent, whether it be in front of an echoingly empty stadium against the hapless Kings or a much more throbbing audience against, say, 2015 champions the Highlanders – as occurred in a rousing semi-final triumph last weekend.

    The Lions’ appealing class of 2016 seem collectively steely, happy and motivated enough to cast aside the huge burden (as evidenced by statistical history) of travelling long-haul for the showpiece and -- at the very, very least – put up a tenacious showing as the underdogs in the formidable Cake Tin.

    But how wonderful for them against that backdrop that in their midst, and right at the coalface in positional terms, is someone like Mostert, anything but a fitful factor in their work template.

    You just know he will put in a Trojan shift, come what may, and not be cowed in the slightest by what the bookies say in advance over the likely match outcome.

    He will be a prize asset to the visitors for that very reason on Saturday, a source of inspiration even if many of those around him won’t need huge additional dollops of it anyway.

    Expect also, though, that the very fact he is due to be moving on, toward year’s end, after three thoroughly laudable seasons for the franchise in Super Rugby will gee up his team-mates to wish his personal swansong in the competition to be a near-fairytale, winning one.

    I say “due to” because there have been persistent murmurs of attempts being made to keep the recently-capped Springbok in the Jo’burg fold for 2017.

    It seems a longish shot, as things stand, given a firm recent public insistence from Lyon, his intended new employers in the French Top 14, that there will be no contract wiggle-out: “We expect him to arrive on November 1 and we will be inflexible.”

    So Wellington does seem a particularly poignant date in a Lions Super Rugby shirt for the 25-year-old tight-fiver hailing from Welkom.

    He has had an immense year thus far, including two hugely deserved – and strikingly encouraging – maiden appearances as a Bok substitute in the closely-fought series against Ireland in June.

    Mostert made enough of an impression in his cameos, operating as next-in-line to Messrs Etzebeth/Du Toit in the Bok lock pecking order as things stand, to suggest that he may not even surrender that bench status once Lood de Jager is fully battle-ready once more after injury.

    In De Jager’s favour, of course, are lingering memories of his major RWC 2015 effectiveness and better ability to cover both second-row berths; Mostert is more of an out-and-out No 5.

    Nevertheless, it will very much be “Lions first” on the Lions colossus’s mind this weekend, even as the Rugby Championship flickers around the corner.

    The portents in numbers terms, entering the final, are excellent for Mostert, who relishes playing every minute of every match, to excel.

    Just for one thing, he has made a monstrous 146 tackles in the 2016 competition.

    That places him eighth among all players right now but as the top lock in the category: ahead of him are six loose forwards and just one back (the Sharks’ inside centre bruiser Andre Esterhuizen).

    He has made 40 lineout catches – Mostert is hugely secure on his own ball – and earned four poaches.

    It doesn’t end there: apart from his perpetual attributes at scrum-time and in hitting rucks with bodily-risk venom, Mostert has also made a reported 117 carries.

    Bank on good discipline, too: for all his extraordinary time on the park, his yellow and red-card tally reads a commendable zero.

    Big game in prospect for Big Franco at Westpac Stadium?

    Of course, silly …

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    Friday, 23 February 2018
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