It's time for Andries Bekker to make his mark on Springbok rugby.
That was the call from Bok forwards coach Johann van Graan to the Stormers giant yesterday. Bekker is set to play his first test in over two years when the Boks take on Argentina in tomorrow's Rugby Championship opener at Newlands.
The 2.08m lock, who will turn 29 in December, has played in only 24 tests despite making his debut in 2008. A lower back injury that required an operation saw him miss the entire 2010 international season, and then last year he ruptured an ankle tendon that ruled him out of the test season and Rugby World Cup.
But he is now over his latest back complaint and ready to run the Bok lineout once more. After playing in the shadow of the legendary Victor Matfield for a number of years, Bekker's time has come.
"Andries ... showed in 2010 and 2011 that he can become one of the all-time great locks in South African rugby. I haven't worked with him a lot, but it has been an absolute pleasure," said van Graan.
"He is a guy that understands the lineouts. Victor was a once-in-a-lifetime player in his own right.
He was the first guy to bring a few new things into the game. In that 2010 final in Soweto, where Andries played against Victor, those were the two best lineout jumpers in the world up against each other. Andries has had some injuries along the way, and Victor has finished his career.
"So, I think it's time for Andries to make his mark. I have only worked with him for a week, and I have been very impressed with him. I think his speed on the ground is very good, and the fact that there is good competition between himself and Juandre is a good thing."
Bekker will hope that his young Stormers teammate Eben Etzebeth came through closed Bok practice unscathed as he recovers from a hip injury, as van Graan says Argentina have improved their lineout considerably in the past few years.
Hard men such as lock Patricio Albacete and captain and loose forward Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe are veteran test players who are good in the air and like to get stuck into the opposition in the physical stakes, while Albacete's fellow second-rower Manuel Carrizza is a big man at 2.02m and 119kg and has 23 test caps.
"We had a look at what they did in the World Cup and their last few games, and they have quite a few jumping options. They sometimes have four and even five jumpers," van Graan said.
Van Graan was part of the exodus of coaches from the Bulls to the Boks, and the young coach (he is only 32) has built up an impressive record at the Pretoria side as a forwards and attack coach. He is expecting a typically spirited Argentina side that will try to take the home team out of their comfort zones, but he also wants the Boks to be aware of any attacking opportunities.
"We are focusing on our game and want to start well and win this first game. Maybe if there is a bonus point out there, we will try to get it, but we first want to win. This is test-match rugby, and they will come out all guns blazing. They are a passionate side and passionate nation," he said.
"At the Bulls, I've been fortunate to be there for a while, and this year they scored 50 tries in Super rugby - which I thought was quite a good record. Those two tries in Durban off counterattack were quite spectacular. And then those four tries we scored in Johannesburg were some of the best rugby I've seen from any international team.
"Then in PE, when we really needed a try, we got the lineout and JP scored in the corner. Attack puts bums on seats, but defence wins you championships. Obviously we will get points on the board and hopefully score a few nice tries."
Two areas van Graan identified for special attention were the kickoffs - where England caught the Boks off-guard with a few short kicks - the breakdowns of course, and, interestingly, free kicks and tap penalties. "We have worked quite hard on plays off free kicks and penalties. I think it has come into the game more and more. There are a lot of free kicks being given, so you have to decide what ... to do with [them]."By Ashfak Mohamed