If Marnus Schoeman is required to fill in at hooker for the Lions in their time of need against the Highlanders this weekend, they can thank Jimmy Stonehouse.
Head coach Swys de Bruin on Wednesday admitted that the diminutive 29-year-old fetcher flank – on loan from the Pumas – would be considered as the side’s backup hooker for the clash in Dunedin.
“We’re privileged to have Marnus with us on tour,” said De Bruin.
“He can easily play a role for us in the No 2 jersey.”
Given that the Lions only have one specialist hooker in Robbie Coetzee on tour for Saturday’s final stop of their four-match adventure following Malcolm Marx’s injury, Schoeman’s presence can’t be underestimated.
But the less obvious story here is Stonehouse’s hidden hand in this situation.
The Pumas’ recently returned director of rugby isn’t a popular man in South African rugby, predominantly because his no-nonsense approach to the game is at odds with the general politically correct nature of the domestic scene.
In 2015, he packed his bags for Japan to go coach Toshiba Brave Lupus and expand his repetoire because no growth opportunities existed for him locally.
Even his notable achievements as a body-builder – Stonehouse was crowned Mr South Africa in 2005 – has contributed negatively to some people’s perception of him.
Yet what has become undeniable is the contribution Stonehouse has made to South African rugby over the past decade.
It was Stonehouse that recruited Schoeman in late 2014 and retreaded him as a hooker, a switch that has clearly come in handy for the Lions.
It was Stonehouse that gave Faf de Klerk his first shot at senior level. Now, the nippy scrumhalf is expected to be included in Rassie Erasmus’ Springbok group for England after a brilliant first season in England and the dearth of viable local options in the position.
And it was Stonehouse that developed Vince Koch into the Saracens (arguably England’s leading rugby team) tighthead whom Saru now apparently desperately want back in the country.
Schoeman’s influence on the Lions cause this year has been so pronounced that even De Bruin admits they would seriously consider a permanent move for him.
“Marnus is definitely a player we’re interested in,” said the Lions mentor.
“He’s a team man through and through. He’s completed a lot of tackles, he’s good at the breakdown and can easily be used as a starting or impact player. Marnus has really settled in well here.”