Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Whip the battery out from beneath the Ferrari’s bonnet, and it is suddenly as “mortal” in many senses as any other vehicle on the road.
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The admirably competitive Lions rugby team of the past three years is about to shed its own battery, if you like, as that workaholic par excellence Franco Mostert prepares for an emotion-charged swansong in Saturday’s Super Rugby final against the Crusaders in Christchurch (09:35 SA time).
Will they suddenly, post-Mostert, look as impotent as that Ferrari?
Well, probably not.
Hope springs eternal, and they do have a handful of credible souls – perhaps their ranks will even be reinforced from the outside – to take up the cudgels anew in the second row. (Marvin Orie, just for one, has made enormous strides this year and can operate comfortably in either lock spot, too.)
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Yet it will also seem almost unthinkable, and unnerving, when they open their 2019 account in the competition away to the Jaguares on February 16, for Mostert to be absent from their tight-five plans.
They used to say in the vicinity of Newlands that Schalk Burger had no switch-off button; much the same has applied for five solid years at Emirates Airline Park in relation to Francois John Mostert.
And it is that uncannily unrelenting knack he had of genuinely “pitching up” for virtually every game that will be most sorely missed when Mostert instead provides his appealing rugby loyalties to Johan Ackermann’s Gloucester from the 2018/19 English Premiership campaign onward.
Presumably, Mostert will stay pretty firmly on the Springbok radar despite his relocation to more distant club climes: he did more than enough as the starting No 5 in every Test against England recently (the Boks won 2-1) to justify an onward ticket to the Rugby Championship beginning in just over a fortnight.
But it is certainly the end of an era for him – among a handful of other Lions players – as far as his red-and-white tenure, one marked by quite indisputable value for money, is concerned.
It is fitting, really, that he comes directly up against the worthiest of opponents at five in the final, having to find a way to somehow outplay or at least equal, if he can, the 99-Test All Black and Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock.
Come the final whistle, both should know they’ve been in a game, as they say, regardless of the score-line.
Whitelock will anticipate Mostert being his customary, demonically busy self despite the considerable drawback of the long-haul flight for the Lions to the big encounter, as he is one of the most uncomplaining of players you will find.
Quite where the Welkom-born competitor, 27, gets his unfaltering energy from is a mystery, as most players can be expected to just “tail off” a little in hunger terms during the course of ever-gruelling seasons.
You wonder, on that note, just how often precisely it is -- especially in the last three largely luminary years by the Lions -- that Mostert has given reason to be substituted.
Ardent fans of the franchise will safely be able to retort, even minus immediate statistical information: “Not a lot.”
He is the consummate, 80-minutes player.
The other thing that sets the former Brits High School pupil apart from most, especially when you consider his physically demanding position, is his amazing ability to remain free of serious injury.
It is educative, really, that it required a non-rugby mishap to keep him out of action virtually throughout 2013, when he first made his switch from an early career at Loftus to the Lions: a serious car accident.
Ever since, you could almost automatically pen his name into a Lions XV, and that despite the additional impediment – or at least supposed one – of a few summers (when South African players should be taking a vital off-season) plying his trade in the Japanese league.
Still he has almost always returned suitably sharp and motivated for a new Super Rugby assault by the Lions.
Enduring imagery of Mostert at Ellis Park will be essentially multi-focused: his driving earnestly at close quarters, undaunted by the prospect of sharp contact despite his relatively slim frame, him making massive, rapid ground to execute a decisive midfield tackle, him wrestling and beavering as he animatedly directs fierce mauls from their very fulcrum, and his lineout assuredness on own ball and frequent, superbly-read pilfers in that department as well.
Perhaps the heavy underdogs will, indeed, “die” in Christchurch on Saturday.
But in his bow-out game for the Lions, Franco Mostert seems especially unlikely to be one of the visitors dying wondering …
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