Lizo Gqoboka is fast establishing himself as a possible successor to the legendary Beast Mtawarira, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
One of the most memorable moments in Saturday’s Vodacom Super Rugby derby at Newlands came from an unexpected source.
In a brutal show of force early in the second half, the Vodacom Bulls ripped apart the Stormers’ scrum, with their front row popping like a champagne cork as the visitor’s won an important penalty.
As the footage rolled with highlights of the front-row destruction, images panned to Gqoboka roaring in delight, before embracing front-row partner Trevor Nyakane.
It was the prop equivalent of a try celebration, and showed that front-rankers can have some fun too, despite generally completing the less glamorous hard yards that don’t often steal many of the headlines.
Away from this solitary moment, though, and when looking at the bigger picture, Gqoboka is making his mark in more ways than one this season. The big man has been in irrepressible form, and increasingly looks a prime contender to begin talking about in a national context.
Gqoboka has always had the potential. Having come through the Eastern Cape ranks, he joined the Bulls in 2016, the same year that he also featured for the South Africa A side.
Injuries have been a hindrance at times, but suddenly this season, fitness and form have combined to see the 29-year-old coming into his own.
Yes, he is no longer a youngster in the Bulls’ ranks, but as many gnarly former front-rowers will tell you, many props age like a fine wine in terms of honing their craft of the dark arts at scrum time as they enter their late 20s and early 30s.
It’s starting to look that way for Gqoboka, who is enjoying every minute of the regular game time he is enjoying this season. Not only has he been destructive in his primary role at scrum time, but his improved conditioning has seen him contributing as a ball carrier and at the breakdown.
It’s good news for South African rugby, whichever way you look at it. Mtawarira – South Africa’s most-capped Super Rugby player and Springbok centurion – will turn 34 in August before heading to his last World Cup as he surely enters the twilight of his career.
As colleague Jon Cardinelli recently wrote, Mtawarira is a national treasure. A man of immense consistency, with rare loyalty to both club and country. In many respects, he is irreplaceable, but inevitably there will come a time to start considering Springbok life without the Sharks stalwart.
Of course, Steven Kitshoff is primed and ready, and has served his dues, but there isn’t such an abundance of loosehead options beyond that, with ‘swinger props’ such as Nyakane and Thomas du Toit having increasingly begun to focus primarily on tighthead play.
Perhaps it’s time to cue the arrival of Gqoboka. His focus will undoubtedly remain on maintaining form and consistency for the remainder of the Super Rugby season, but he is increasingly looking like a player who is capable of moving in the near future from the Springbok periphery to the frontline.
It may also present him with an opportunity to bank some invaluable mentorship from Mtawarira, before stepping up to help fill a considerable void that will be left when the legend eventually decides to hang up his boots.
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix