Where are SA’s classic hookers?

2012-09-08 15:33

One thing that South Africa has not lacked, even though they were once shunned by the international community, are quality hookers.

While New Zealand had the feisty and combative Sean Fitzpatrick, the Boks’ Uli Schmidt more than held his own.

Besides the unfair red card he received against Canada in the 1995 Rugby World Cup, James Dalton was a quality hooker, but what stood out was the quality of his replacements.

Then Natal hooker Chris Rossouw filled in superbly while waiting in the wings was Naka Drotské, who now coaches the Free State Cheetahs.

With the change of the scrum engage call and the constant tinkering with the breakdown law, hookers had to mould their game to fit all facets, not just to feed line-outs and hook the ball in scrums.

Former Sharks boy John Smit was the classic, play-it-tight-and-strong scrummaging hooker, but his understudy Bismarck du Plessis’ pre-eminence and his besting of Smit in all areas has been a major talking point for the past three years.

However, Du Plessis will be out for the rest of the year due to a knee injury, and with the Blue Bulls’ Chiliboy Ralepelle also injured, a Pandora’s Box has been opened in terms of replacements.

Adriaan Strauss has fared well but a team’s depth often translates into how it will cope without its specialists.

Worryingly, though, the Cheetahs captain carried a mild knee ligament injury for the best part of last week, but he was passed fit to play in yesterday’s away Test match in Australia.

As good as he may be with ball in hand and finding his jumpers, Strauss does not have the ruck-punching and ball-pilfering skills that Du Plessis and Ralepelle are renowned for.

The biggest worry, though, is what lies after Strauss in terms of world-class players and whether they can stand up to the rigours of Test rugby.

Tiaan Liebenberg was one beacon in a struggling Stormers and Western Province pack, but his scrummaging will be put to test by New Zealand and,to a lesser extent, Australia.

Whether or not Craig Burden finds himself on the bench will depend on how Strauss’ knee holds up. One more injury could lead to the same calamity faced in the loose-forward department.

One hopes the hooking stock does not become as threadbare.

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