There aren’t many superlatives left to describe Franco Mostert’s phenomenal Super Rugby season. But one former great of the game managed to pay the Lions lock the compliment to end all compliments.
“What makes Franco special is that he is a combination of a Victor Matfield and a Bakkies Botha put together. He has got the aggression of a Bakkies, but has all the flair and the skills of a Victor Matfield.”
It doesn’t get any bigger than that, especially if the man showering the praises on you is one of the most decorated Springboks of all time.
Bakkies Botha may be referring to himself in the third person in that quote, but he has earned the right to do it, having won almost everything as a player.
Botha has won a World Cup, Tri-Nations titles, a series against the British & Irish Lions, Super Rugby titles, Currie Cups, the French Top 14 and a European Cup title. And, to top it off, formed one of the most formidable lock partnerships in the history of the game with Matfield.
These days Botha spends his days on the farm, using only the sun to tell the time. When it’s up high, he works in the fields, but when it sets it’s time to settle inside and spend some time with his wife and kids.
But that doesn’t mean he has thrown rugby by the wayside after retiring from the game shortly before the 2015 World Cup. He has kept a keen eye on this year’s Super Rugby tournament and especially the rise of Mostert after they once shared a dressing room at the Bulls.
Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield formed a sensational second-row partnership for the Springboks. Getty Images
“The first time I met him was at the Bulls and he seemed to be a bit complacent. He left the Bulls for the Lions and his game has just taken off,” Botha told KweséESPN.
“Johan [Ackermann, Lions coach] knows how to work with locks, because he was a lock himself, a Springbok lock. I think for Franco to go to the Lions was a great decision. Now he is playing some great rugby.
“At this stage he is the best lock in South Africa, and one of the best in the world.”
The 26-year-old Mostert’s work rate has been one of the standout features of his game, and the reason he got the nod to partner Eben Etzebeth in the Springbok second row for the Test series against France ahead of current SA Rugby Player of the Year, Pieter-Steph du Toit.
He is definitely not one of the biggest second-row forwards to play for South Africa at 1.98m and 105kg, but he is strong in the collisions and his cleans, tackles and carries are effective in the battle for supremacy at the gainline.
“Franco is already a world-class lock in my opinion. If you look at his work rate, his tackles, his cleaning and the time he spends on the park, he has just been phenomenal,” Botha said.
“If you look at the way he plays, in comparison with an Eben Etzebeth who is almost twice his size, he plays with the same fire and intensity because his heart is twice as big.
“He is still taking the ball up as hard in the 78th minute he does in the first minute. Franco’s stats are absolutely mind-blowing. He makes the most cleans, most carries and most tackles. That is unbelievable work, because normally you have a player making the most cleans, but somebody else making the most tackles.
“Bloody Franco does everything!”
The Lions’ Franco Mostert and the Hurricanes’ Mark Abbott compete for the ball in a lineout during their Super Rugby semifinal. Kim Ludbrook, EPA
While Mostert plays like a No. 4 lock in open play, he lineout jumping has also caught the eye, especially in the semi-final against the Hurricanes where he stole two crucial balls when the New Zealand side were on the attack deep in the Lions’ 22.
Although Mostert is relatively short for a South African second rower, he leads the competition in lineout steals. He is also very secure on his own ball and runs the Lions’ lineout with an iron fist.
“Franco is lighter than most other locks and that benefits him in the lineout. He is nice and light, and that gets him that half a second quicker in the air to beat his opponent,” Botha said.
“For a lot of heavy guys, it takes us a split second longer to get in the air and on the limit — the highest point where the hooker is throwing the ball into the lineout. That is why he is such a great contesting lock.”
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