Playing Bok Selector: A wealth of riches at lock

With the B&I Lions series fast approaching and key men still injured, we take a look at the options the Springboks have at lock.

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This week Toulon announced that Eben Etzebeth will be ruled out for ‘several weeks’ having broken a finger during training. The injury to the Bok enforcer means he joins Lood de Jager and RG Snyman on the list of sidelined Springbok second rowers.

While the injury to Etzebeth shouldn’t put him at risk of losing out on a place in the Lions series, the situation with the other two is more tenuous. Both men are recovering from knee injuries and though it is felt De Jager’s is less serious than first predicted, there remains much uncertainty over RG Snyman.

Having three of the country’s top-four locks out of action is not a position Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber would have wanted to find themselves in. They will quietly be drawing up contingencies and assessing their options should the worst come to the worst.

On the bright side, South Africa has never lacked for quality at lock and there are a number of candidates who are knocking on the Springbok door – ready to take up the mantle should they be called upon.

It’s therefore worth exploring what options are available to the Bok coaches should any of the aforementioned players be unavailable. In making this decision, they will be required to determine whether to select a specialist second rower or a player who offers versatility at blindside, too.

The specialists

JD Schickerling may count himself as unfortunate not to have a Springbok cap to his name already. He played for South Africa A against a touring England Saxons team in 2016 and earned a call-up to the Bok squad in 2018.

Schickerling’s name has been regularly floated in Bok circles and he may finally get his chance this year after playing stellar rugby across South Africa’s domestic competitions. The towering Stormers man has this far resisted overseas interest in the hope of furthering his Bok ambitions – he may yet be rewarded.

Ruben van Heerden was a surprising omission from the Springbok Green and Springbok Gold squads who played in an exhibition match prior to South Africa’s domestic season starting. The 23-year-old has clearly taken that snub personally and has been a demon in the engine room ever since.

Along with Schickerling, Van Heerden has been the standout second rower on South Africa’s domestic circuit this year. He is also one of the most improved players in all of SA rugby – the talisman he is now for the Sharks is a far cry from the inexperienced player who struggled at the Vodacom Bulls.

Marvin Orie is another whose name needs to enter the conversation. The former Lion (now Stormer) has three Bok caps but has all the talent to earn more. At only 110kg, Orie is a more mobile option should the Boks require it.

This is not to say that Orie doesn’t also have a physical edge. On the contrary, the big second rower is known for looking to impose himself on the opposition and has grappled with ill-discipline in the past. If he can sort out this element of his game, Orie could be well positioned to stake his claim.

The hybrids

Pieter-Steph du Toit has been an absolute revelation on the blindside flank. So much so that it is easy to forget that he started his Springbok career at lock. Though Rassie and Nienaber are doubtlessly reluctant to move Du Toit away from his best position, if circumstances demand it, he’s a safe bet to excel at lock, too.

Jason Jenkins has caused a bit of a stir after deciding to sign with Irish giants Munster. The former Bull was in fine form earlier this year in South Africa’s domestic competitions. Jenkins is a powerful ball-carrying option – something that has been clear since his SA U20 days – but is also surprisingly mobile.

The 122kg behemoth already has one Bok cap to his name (in Erasmus’ first Test in charge in 2018) and so is clearly already on the Springbok radar. His abrasive and powerful style could be just what the Boks are after to front the Lions.

Rhynhard Elstadt is another who fits the same mould as Jenkins, standing nearly 2m tall and weighing in at 120kg. Elstadt has two caps for the Boks but has typically been used by Erasmus as an option on the blindside rather than in the second row. Nevertheless, Elstadt has shown he can excel at lock and has regularly turned out for his club Toulouse in this position.

Stephan Lewies may be a less talked about potential Springbok, but his name merits inclusion. The Harlequins captain has been outstanding in the second row during this season’s Gallagher Premiership. The former Sharks man is another who boasts a good balance between power and mobility.

Lewies has one Springbok cap dating all the way back to 2014 but also played for South Africa A in 2016. Given his current form and leadership qualities, there may be an outside chance for him to force his way back into the selection framework.

Jannes Kirsten has simply been sensational for the Exeter Chiefs. Though he is less eye-catching than many of the other names mentioned, few can match Kirsten’s insatiable work rate. The red-bearded warrior isn’t afraid to go to the ‘dark places’ for his team. Rassie and Jacques often prioritise attitude over talent and few could argue that Kirsten doesn’t have it in droves.

Note: Franco Mostert wasn’t discussed as it is assumed he will be involved in the Springbok squad.

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