Boks: Lood back to his roots?

Lood de Jager (Gallo Images)
Lood de Jager (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Doing a fairly regular ping-pong between No 4 and No 5 lock responsibilities has hardly hampered the development of Lood de Jager at Springbok level.

In fact, it has probably only enhanced it, as he looks a credible fit in either spot whenever the need arises.

But the lanky Cheetahs second-rower stands a strong chance of going back to his roots, as it were, as front lock when coach Heyneke Meyer on Wednesday reveals his side for their first World Cup Pool B match against Japan at Brighton on Saturday (17:45 SA time).

First-choice No 4 Eben Etzebeth is reportedly still suffering some effects from his calf problem – not the ideal injury for a key lineout jumper and scrum-shover to have – and did not train early in the lead-up week.

It seems unnecessarily risky to field him against the Asian minnows, even if he is medically declared “fit” ... it not as though Etzebeth, a prize Bok card at the tournament, is in special need of early RWC game-time.

That probably opens the door for De Jager to partner veteran No 5 Victor Matfield in the second row on Saturday, with Pieter-Steph du Toit, still feeling his way back from a longer-term injury of his own, occupying a lock berth on the bench.

With a bit of luck, Etzebeth will be 100 percent ready for probably the two most challenging and physical pool matches, the middle ones on the roster against Samoa in Birmingham and Scotland in Newcastle respectively.

But for the moment, if the Boks do go the De Jager-Matfield route against Japan, there would almost certainly be no need at all to fret about their alliance.

Apart from the obvious fact that senior figure Matfield is one of the all-time legends of lineout play and playing in his fourth World Cup, De Jager has been one of the most consistently stellar Springboks whenever given opportunities in a less-than-perfect Test season this year.

A partnership with Matfield would give the Boks a healthily athletic feel at lock, given De Jager’s long-striding mobility in open play which is on a par with Matfield’s stealth in that respect.

But the 22-year-old’s innocent-looking face also belies an under-rated “grunt” factor in the Alberton-born customer, who has 12 prior caps including five starts.

After all, he has been largely schooled in the No 4 enforcer-type role; he has worn that jersey pretty regularly at Super Rugby level for the Cheetahs, where captain Francois Uys wore the five shirt this year.

There is also a good omen to be banked, perhaps, from what occurred the last and only previous time De Jager has begun a Test match with Matfield as his ally at lock.

That was against Scotland in Port Elizabeth in 2014 – his third cap and maiden start -- when the national team produced a pleasingly vibrant performance to thrash the Scots (third RWC foes shortly) 55-6.

A spring-heeled De Jager, apart from doing his donkeywork well, romped over for two tries of his own in the rout.

By his next appearance in the start-out XV, against Argentina at Loftus that year (a narrow 13-6 win in unseasonal rain) he had swapped jerseys to No 5, with another gnarly customer in Bakkies Botha as his new partner; then he stayed there as a fit-again Etzebeth took the No 4 shirt from Botha for the away leg against the Pumas in Salta (a nail-biting 33-31 victory).

Another day, another slightly different challenge for De Jager in Brighton on Saturday?

History tells you that, if selected, he shouldn’t be bothered too much ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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