The Perennial Prop, a veteran of many of those uncompromising, often unnoticed, battles that are so much part of the netherworld of the front row, was waxing lyrical about the exploits of the Lions front row as they outthought and outplayed the Highlanders in Saturday’s semifinal at Ellis Park.
“You can’t begrudge Elton Jantjies his man-of-the-match award. The Highlanders had rightly targeted him, but he stood up to it and, uncharacteristically as far as I’m concerned, made some telling tackles.
“That has to have been the best game he has played. Elton’s 12th-minute try was a beauty and probably the decisive score of the match. I just wish he looked more like a rugby player than a hip-hop pin-up.”
The prop paused for a moment at this juncture, and you could literally see him adding up the contributions to the team effort from Faf de Klerk, the speedy Courtnall Skosan, powerhouse Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe and Ruan Combrink.
“The backline did a great job,” he conceded.
“But in the analysis, if you think about it carefully, it was the forwards who laid the foundation for the win. More especially Julian Redlinghuys at tighthead and Dylan Smith on the other side of the scrum. Bracket them around Malcolm Marx at hooker – though he has to learn to start offloading rather than trying to break defensive walls down as a one-man wrecking crew – and you have a potent platform to work off.
“A prop’s business is to provide the primary pressure; the rest of the pack escalates that pressure, and the backs use that pressure and round things off.
“And even without Warren Whiteley, the rest of the pack responded to the stand-in captaincy of Jaco Kriel and did exactly that.
“Just to digress for an instant, the kick Jantjies made for Kriel out wide to get his try coming up for the hour begs a question. How many tries like that has Francois Louw scored?”
The veteran Prop shrugged his ruck-worn shoulders and followed that with a grin as wide as it was rhetorical, before turning his attention back to his first allegiance … the forwards as a cohesive unit.
“You give me a committed pack of forwards and we can beat any side in the world. In this respect, rugby is not a difficult game. And the Lions have proved that playing for one another works; they had little other option than to bond and put their backs into it since being deprived of Super Rugby three seasons ago. Johan Ackermann, Swys de Bruyn and the rest of the coaching staff deserve all the credit for this. But as Ackermann understands, it really all comes back to the forwards.”
Having had his say, the Prop paused again. Then he shook his head and grinned once more. “Having said that,” he continued, “I wonder what Pat Lambie will feel having suddenly become the Springbok utility backline player?”