Cape Town – Their cash-flow issues have hardly been a secret
over the past year or more, but WP Rugby are sitting on some fast-appreciating
assets in a crucial, sought-after position worldwide: tighthead prop.
Genuinely good ‘uns at No 3 tend to be almost as rare as the
proverbial hen’s teeth, but Newlands, now housing the Currie Cup again,
suddenly has a surfeit of these specimens.
Particularly good news, for those WP and Stormers-inclined,
is that all of their premier resources in the berth are either out-and-out
“youthful” or, at very least, yet to reach the potential prime of their careers
… and also pretty much nailed down contractually until at least 2019.
Talk of the town at present, of course, is Wilco Louw, many
experts’ choice as most influential player in Saturday’s victorious final
against the Sharks in Durban, even if the official mantle went -- perhaps not
without a wee element of sentimentalism -- to slippery, now-departing Scottish
international midfielder Huw Jones.
Louw’s battle with another mountainous character in the
Sharks’ No 1 shirt, Thomas du Toit, was understandably hyped as one of the
likely, decisive positional scraps and the fact that Du Toit came off after 55
minutes and Louw went through to the generous 77th for the eventual champions
says a fair bit about how the match-up turned out.
That said, the 22-year-old Du Toit remains a major prospect
for South Africa too, and often it takes an entire scrum’s competence to tell
an accurate story from a particular match; WP’s dominance was also greatly aided
by wily JC Janse van Rensburg on the loose-head side bossing Ross Geldenhuys.
But the fact remains that the Stormers are now the most
blessed, perhaps by a distance, of the four local franchises for tighthead
stocks looking toward Super Rugby 2018.
Not only is Ceres-born Louw, 23 - who just looks like the
most classical of No 3s in build and his essentially close-quarters playing
style, doesn’t he? – set to strongly challenge for the Springbok starting berth
on the looming European tour, but he should anchor a healthy Stormers scrum
(with muscular Eben Etzebeth immediately behind him) from mid-February next
He recently signed a personal contract extension at Newlands
Although he has been in painstaking rehabilitation from a
neck injury – not always the area of the anatomy that brings bosses/coaches comfort
over front-rankers – the Stormers should also be able to welcome back in early
2018 a certain Frans Malherbe, still with ample time on his side in tighthead
terms at 26 and capable of big things if he can finally keep a cleaner bill of
Malherbe, already the owner of 17 international caps since
2013, is a taller option than Louw in the berth at 1.90 metres (to the latter’s
1.85) although he concedes a bit in weight, tipping the scales at around 125kg
to Louw’s 130-plus.
But there are other raw, developing gems on the
“right-shoulder” side of the scrum at Newlands.
It was a nice touch from WP coach John Dobson, for example,
that he gave substitute Frans van Wyk a late, three-minute sampling of the
showpiece occasion on Saturday.
Van Wyk is also only 22, and although he doesn’t hail from
the Western Cape (Delareyville-born, Krugersdorp-educated), the 128kg player
joined the WP Rugby Institute out of school and represented South Africa at the
2015 World Rugby Under20 Championship.
Then, just a little further down the age-related ladder,
comes Carlu Sadie, already some 125kg at the tender age of 20 and a product of
Bellville High School.
He played in the latest World Rugby Under20 Championship,
and on Saturday helped WP win the SA Rugby U21 Championship by seeing off the
Blue Bulls 48-41 in a curtain-raiser at Kings Park.
Of course it was only last year that Newlands also boasted
the services of that often destructive scrummager and fierce ball-carrier Vincent
Koch, who had two years with the Stormers before being snapped up by Saracens;
he has been earning some rave reviews lately in the English Premiership.
Koch is simply further evidence that South Africa is
generally starting to become a “tighthead factory” again after several years of
relative doldrums in that department: at 27, he still has many years of
first-class rugby ahead and could well come into the picture (he will be
eligible in 2019, under SA Rugby stipulations) for the Boks’ next World Cup
crack in Japan.
Highly-touted tightheads are worth gold on the international
market … it will be interesting to see just how WP manage their swollen,
enviable cupboard over the next two or three years, or whether likely feelers
from elsewhere simply become irresistible in a couple of cases.
*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing