The latest development in the rugby wheel is the evolution of the second row forward – the left lock or enforcer lock in particular. Traditionally a bulky, abrasive character, the enforcer lock does the donkey work in the tight-loose, bashes opposition forwards into submission and beefs up the set pieces.
This year, however, has seen coaches employ an additional loose forward in the number four jersey to great effect. New Zealand-born coaches and namesakes John Mitchell and John Plumtree pioneered this strategy in South Africa this year and subsequently guided the MTN Golden Lions and the Sharks to the Absa Currie Cup final.
2007 World Cup-winning Springbok loose forward Wikus van Heerden has resurrected his career in the Lions second row, while four-Test Springbok back rower Jean Deysel was a revelation in the number four jersey for the Sharks in the latter stages of the Currie Cup.
The tactical advantages of playing a retread loose forward at lock are vast. It affords a team an extra ball-carrier capable of smashing over the gain line with regularity and adds significant pace to the tight five which gives a side an additional scavenger at the breakdown whilst retaining a lineout jumper.
With no apparent successor to Bakkies Botha and a wealth of world-class back rowers, 2012 will present the new Springbok coach with a golden opportunity to get one-up on the competition by employing Juan Smith, Deysel or Willem Alberts in the second row.
Smith at number four, where he has slotted in on more than one occasion at Test level, would be a masterstroke. His athleticism makes him a reliable and popular lineout option and his physicality matches that of any international enforcer lock.
The mere thought of having to contain Smith, Andries Bekker, Heinrich Brussow, Schalk Burger and Pierre Spies will cause sleepless nights for opposing coaches.
Written by: Quintin van Jaarsveld