Lions forwards coach Leon Boshoff says Heinke van der Merwe will target Brian Mujati come scrum-time at Newlands on Saturday.
Mujati left the Lions at the end of 2007 after the Stormers found a loophole in his contract and the tighthead left Johannesburg on bad terms. Last year included peaks and troughs for the Zimbabwean, as he earned his Springbok debut but struggled to make the step up to the international stage.
Van der Merwe played in his first and only Test in late 2007, and although he wasn’t in the Bok Test squad last year, bossing Mujati at scrum-time will only boost his national credentials.
The tighthead side is the point of attack for any scrum and Boshoff made no secret of the fact that Van der Merwe will attempt to unsettle Mujati at the set-piece.
“We know Brian very well,” Boshoff told keo.co.za, “we know all his ins and outs. I’m positive Heinke will come out on top in the personal battle. I’m sure Brian will be worried about Heinke, while Heinke will definitely target him at the scrum.
“Brian also struggles with his right wrist, which makes it tough for him to bind - we’ve done our homework and we know that.”
Van der Merwe missed the Lions’ last fixture (a 16-9 defeat to the Bulls) after he was banned for a dangerous tackle on Frans Steyn, and Boshoff believes this will motivate the loosehead further.
“Heinke’s a senior player in the squad even though he’s young , and him being back will give the rest of the side a lot of confidence. The pack relies on him to get us on the front foot and he is extremely important to the front row,” said Boshoff.
Van der Merwe is lauded as the backbone of the Lions’ pack, but Boshoff also reserved special praise for hooker Willie Wepener.
“Teams with strong hookers have strong packs, look at the Sharks, Waratahs, and Crusaders when they had Corey Flynn. In my eyes Willie is the third best No 2 in this country, and should be in Bok contention. You need strong scrummaging hookers.”
Although the Stormers haven’t been convincing at this set-piece at the start of the campaign, Boshoff is not under-estimating their pack.
“They don’t have the strongest scrum in the competition, and struggled against the Blues, but they were better against the Bulls. That will give them confidence, and confidence is key at scrum-time, which will boost them against us,” he said.
Although the Lions’ scrum has been solid, the lineout has been a glaring weakness. This has been an area where the Stormers have excelled and Boshoff realises improvement is non-negotiable.
“We beat the Cheetahs while losing many lineouts, so it shows that it’s not such an important area any more, but it has to improve. It is a good platform to attack from, but what is more vital is controlling broken play after putting the phases together from the set-pieces.”
In other team news, Jannes Labuschagne has returned to training after minor knee surgery and could come onto the bench.
By Grant Ball