Lions first-choice hooker Bandise Maku will be sidelined for some time after having surgery on a torn pectoral muscle, leaving Martin Bezuidenhout and Callie Visagie to wrestle over the No.2 jersey.
The former Bulls rake, who played for the Springboks against Italy in 2010, underwent surgery on Tuesday and at this stage it is not clear when he will be back in action.
Lions forwards coach Johann Ackermann confirmed the news with this website, adding that it is a considerable blow to the team considering his quality and experience.
He said: “He [Maku] has unfortunately torn his pectoral muscle. They say that he will be out for a couple of months, I am not 100% sure because it all depends on the extent of the damage.
“It is definitely a big blow for us in the sense that he has got experience and he is a really good set-phase hooker, but we have to move on,” added Ackermann.
This means that Martin Bezuidenhout and new recruit Callie Visagie, who captained the Maties in the Varsity Cup last year, will fight it out to be the starting hooker for coach John Mitchell’s team when the Super Rugby competition gets underway in a few weeks time.
“Callie and Martin will play it out for that hooker spot and then we have also got a former SA Under-20 hooker Francois du Toit who is currently playing in the Varsity Cup for UJ and is also in our system,” Ackermann explained.
The Lions forward mentor has been impressed with Visagie’s work ethic since he arrived from Stellenbosch late last year, and is excited to see how he settles into the systems in place at the Lions.
“He is working hard, we have got him into the condition that we wanted to. He was willing to work hard and his biggest challenge now is to get comfortable with our structures and the front row that he will be playing with.
“But weekly we can see the progress and hopefully he will adapt quite quickly not just to the players around him but also to the Super Rugby standards,” said Ackermann.
The former Springbok lock is happy with the balance of youthful exuberance and wise old heads in his pack, with players like Wikus van Heerden and Cobus Grobbelaar feeding off the energy that newcomers like Visagie and former Griquas lock Hendrik Roodt have brought to the squad.
“We have got a good mix here between the youth and the older guys. The nice thing about it is that the older guys are willing to share their experiences with the younger guys so I think at this stage although there is competition there is also good unity between the players,” he said.
Ackermann added that both Van Heerden and Grobbelaar have worked hard in the off-season and are in line for starting spots when the Super Rugby action kicks off at the end of the month.
“On current form looking at training and where they stand now I think Cobus [Grobbelaar] is pushing hard for that No.6 jersey and is definitely a contender to be in the starting line-up.
“Wikus is still one of our hard men, we see him as one of our grinders and as long as his body holds up he will definitely be there to start every game,” he said.