Cape Town – As you would expect of the most senior current Springbok second-row figure, Eben Etzebeth has locked the Test scrum with an impressive handful of allies in his 77-cap career thus far.
It all began with then head-coach Heyneke Meyer, back in 2012, entrusting him as a raw 20-year-old with starting duty in the home Test series against England, alongside another complete international novice – though several years older – at that point in the form of Juandre Kruger.
Former Bulls man Kruger, now a 33-year-old veteran, is set for a swansong period back at Loftus in Super Rugby from next year – relative manna from heaven considering their depressingly widespread 2019 lock exodus -- after several seasons in France.
That Test partnership was a fruitful one for a while, although Etzebeth was to prove the more durable presence and has since been paired with all of Andries Bekker, the great lineout icon Victor Matfield, Lood de Jager and Franco Mostert in Bok starting XVs.
He occasionally featured in the same match-day squads as co-enforcer Bakkies Botha, toward the tail of Botha’s decorated Test career, but never in start-out combination as both were largely deemed No 4-style locks.
De Jager and Mostert are among what is widely considered the impressive, frontline quartet who will be ready for action (fitness permitting, of course) at the 2019 World Cup in Japan pretty shortly, also featuring Etzebeth and RG Snyman.
But the tallest timber of them all, the 2.07m Snyman, is odd one out in not yet having run out in the same Bok XV as Etzebeth, a trend that continued last Saturday when he replaced him, rather than joined him, in around the 50th minute of the 16-16 Rugby Championship draw with New Zealand in Wellington.
Snyman provided as much onward grunt in the Cake Tin, really, as we are so accustomed to seeing on a regular basis from Etzebeth – including a merciless clean-out on Brodie Retallick that dislocated the All Black hard man’s shoulder, although the incident perhaps rightly avoided any citing-type scrutiny.
With Mostert’s admirable engine ensuring he comfortably saw out the contest after beginning it as Etzebeth’s partner, the former Lions stalwart was able to resume a familiar combo with Snyman: they had starred, remember, while the Stormers player was injury-rehabbing in last season’s 2-1 Test series triumph over visiting England.
Still, there is arguably time left yet for present Bok coach Rassie Erasmus to experiment a little further with combinations before RWC 2019 kicks off in late September, and one that comes to mind is the possibility of trying out Etzebeth and Snyman – the latter in a No 5, middle-of-lineout jumping capacity – for the first time together.
While Snyman has played virtually all of his Bok rugby (13 Tests, including five starts) thus far as a “four” factor, he is an appealingly adaptable athlete often familiar with the other lock berth -- and its generally looser, more mobile requirements – through alliance with Jason Jenkins for the Bulls in Super Rugby.
In that landscape, heavyweight Jenkins was invariably the No 4 presence, with Snyman perfectly at ease as the five.
While this should not in any way suggest a downgrading of the short- to medium-term Test prospects of either Mostert or De Jager, both so valuable in their own ways, wouldn’t it be worth Erasmus having a look, if he believes he can yet facilitate that luxury ahead of the World Cup, at Etzebeth-Snyman in tandem?
Such a combination would put plenty of fear into the rival hooker throwing in at lineout time … while also arguably pairing the two major “meanies”, if you like, of the four main Bok locks.
Isn’t it worth a little flutter?
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