2019 Boks: Mostert may have work cut out
Cape Town – You have to be cautious of making hasty judgements based on evidence from one rugby match.
But what certainly occurred at Loftus on Saturday was an exhibition of the unusually multi-pronged skill set of that towering athlete RG Snyman in the second row for the Bulls against the Reds.
Considering that it was his first start of the season, coming off injury, Snyman was near-monumental in the important 32-17 Super Rugby triumph.
It wasn’t just that he performed the customary lock chores well; his lean but strong 2.07m frame kept popping up as an extra attacking factor, playing no small part in their romp to five tries and a valuable bonus point.
He has always been a keen rampager, if you like, in open play, blessed with quite startling bursts of speed at times and a healthy eye for a gap, but it almost seemed as if his spell on the sidelines has also seen him sharpen his offloading abilities – he produced a couple of “Sonny Bill” gems in one of the Bulls’ more entertaining, futuristic-looking showings of the year so far.
It is commonly accepted by most observers in this country that experienced strongman Eben Etzebeth has fairly clear-cut first rights to the No 4 jersey for the Springboks, and the 27-year-old may have to be either injured or suffer an unexpectedly pronounced slump in form to lose that mantle ahead of the critical objective of the World Cup in Japan.
Should Etzebeth remain the “main man” there, a mighty scramble will be on for the No 5 berth in the middle of the lineout.
The holder is Franco Mostert: you can say that with mathematical confidence about the now Gloucester-based workaholic of the engine room, as he started as many as 11 of the 14 Bok Tests last year, in Rassie Erasmus’s maiden campaign at the helm.
Clearly the head coach is partial to the former Lions stalwart, who is almost always likely to give you a tireless shift near the coalface and has a remarkable ability not to get crocked or look noticeably jaded during a long season, into the bargain.
But despite the knowledge that overseas-based players can be picked without restriction for the national team these days, the domestic scene (or read: Super Rugby) probably remains a better place to be in terms of impressing Erasmus and others in Bok circles, week in and week out.
That is why I have a suspicion that Snyman’s notably broad repertoire, superior X-factor and extremely comfortable ability to occupy either of the lock positions could well see him eclipse Mostert to the No 5 berth when the Boks kick off their Test year against Australia in Johannesburg on July 20.
If that were to transpire and he played his cards right, that could also see him entrench his spot for the later business of RWC 2019.
There is also a good likelihood, remember, that his Bulls and Bok squad-mate Lood de Jager, who was looking sprightly both as player and franchise captain before a shoulder injury wrecked his entire Super Rugby campaign a few weeks ago, will be back in the Bok frame at some point in the Rugby Championship, and then onward to the bigger deal.
He, too, has stirring roaming abilities to add to his willingness to get stuck in at closer quarters, and can also operate seamlessly at either four or five.
Somehow a Bok second row of Etzebeth and either of Snyman or De Jager just has more of an excitement factor about it than, say, Etzebeth and the metronomic grafter Mostert.
That said, the Gloucester player has clearly been an important part of the furniture in their healthy climb to third in the English Premiership at present, often sharing pack duties with two old Lions allies in Jaco Kriel and Ruan Ackermann and also hooker Franco Marais (formerly Sharks).
He should stay right in the extended Bok squad frame, and fittingly so: the Welkom-born competitor’s Test-level credentials are not in any doubt.
Increasingly, however, he may find it hard in 2019 to match in pure game-breaking terms the attributes that mark Snyman and De Jager.
Mostert will play for South Africa this year, I’m pretty sure.
But just not in the No 5 jersey with as much regularity as he did in 2018, is my call.
No doubt he will fervently desire to quell that possibility, of course …
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing