With regular skipper and No8 Warren Whiteley unavailable, Lions boss Johan Ackermann has had no option but to back his smaller men – in SA rugby terms, that is – to do the business in the back row in these early stages of the Currie Cup. And how they’ve already delivered.
In their opening game in Port Elizabeth last weekend, SA Sevens star Kwagga Smith scored a hat-trick of tries, while new skipper Jaco Kriel shone across the park. Smith is probably one of the smallest men plying his trade in the Currie Cup, tipping the scales at just 80kg and standing 1.8m tall. Kriel weighs 97kg and is 1.84m tall.
At the back of the scrum, Ruaan Lerm is only slightly “bigger” than his flanks, weighing 103kg and standing 1.9m tall.
Ackermann says he’s confident his loose-forwards will continue to cause problems for their opponents. “These guys have all got their own individual strengths and when you combine them I think they complement each other well,” said Ackermann ahead of today’s game against the Pumas. Kick-off at Ellis Park this evening is 7.10pm.
“I realise every team we’re going to face in the Currie Cup will pose new and different challenges ... and we’re not always going to get off to the start we made last week ... so we’ll take things one game at a time. Having said that, Australia showed against New Zealand last week what is possible in this game, and they didn’t have very big and tall loosies. It worked for them on the day.”
Indeed, with Michael Hooper and David Pocock – both specialist openside flanks and neither more than 1.85m tall – in the starting team, Australia dominated the All Blacks at the breakdowns and went on to win the Rugby Championship decider.
The Lions will, of course, be hoping for the same twin thieving success today and in the remainder of the matches Kriel and Smith play together. It’s certainly something that’s full of promise, especially against a side as dangerous as the Pumas who, like the Lions, enjoy running with the ball more than kicking it.
But if it’s the Lions flankers who hold the key to their performance this evening, it’s the Pumas scrumhalf Faf de Klerk who’ll be crucial for the visitors. If he’s given the tiniest amount of space and time he could cause some serious problems for his other teammates, many of whom he plays with in Super Rugby. - The Star
Original source: Size not an issue for Ackermann