Lappies is a 'special star'
Jan de Koning looks at one of the most exciting prospects in the country and a new addition to the Springbok training squad.
The call-up of Pieter Hermias Cornelius Labuschagné to the Springbok training squad was no surprise for Cheetahs assistant coach Hawies Fourie.
The 24-year-old loose forward, affectionately known as Lappies, has been punted as a Bok candidate well in advance of his inclusion in a 38-man training squad on Wednesday.
That is because Labuschagné is a special star - a player of exceptional skills and one of the standout players in the Super Rugby competition.
He has taken on and beaten allcomers.
It is not surprising that in one of their rare defeats since their return from Australasia, a forgetful game against the Hurricanes, Labuschagné was out injured.
His return last week helped spark the Cheetahs to a deserved win over the Reds.
"He does everything so well," Fourie told this website, when asked about the influence of the Grey College product - who brought a greater balance to the Cheetahs' loose forward combination this season.
"He has an incredible workrate - he made 29 tackles this [past] weekend [against the Reds], he is also affective at the breakdown and solid in the line-outs.
"He is a very special player," Fourie said, adding that it is not a surprise he has come into consideration for the Springbok team.
On Saturday, before joining up with the Boks for the first time on Sunday, Labuschagne's talents will be put to the test against another very physical and energetic loose forward, Wimpie van der Walt.
The Cheetahs travel to Port Elizabeth for a Round 15 encounter with the Southern Kings and two of the competition's stand-out flanks will go head-to-head.
The two - Labuschagne and Van der Walt - top the competition's list for most tackles.
The Cheetahs man, Labuschagne, has made 194 tackles. His Kings rival, Van der Walt, is not far behind at 184 - both in 11 appearances.
A glance at their most recent games show their true value to their teams and what a treat awaits spectators at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and TV viewers on Saturday.
Labuschagne (who plays at No.7) was on for a full 80 minutes in the 27-13 win over the Reds. He made 29 tackles, with four off-loads, nine runs (for 62 metres gained), attended six rucks and won one turnover.
Van der Walt (who featured at No.6) played 65 minutes in the 34-27 triumph over the Highlanders. He made 12 tackles, had 10 runs (for 37 metres gained), attended nine rucks and won two turnovers.
Fourie was excited by the prospect of seeing the Cheetahs' loose trio - Philip van der Walt, Pieter Labuschagné and Heinrich Brüssow - go toe-to-toe with the Kings' equally exciting combination - Cornell du Preez, Luke Watson and Wimpie van der Walt.
"I see Jacques Engelbrecht is also fit and ready to face us," Fourie said of the Kings' other stand-out loose forward, who will play off the bench after returning from injury.
"Luke Watson has had a few good games in recent weeks and then Cornell du Preez is a guy who has impressed me this whole season.
"They are all good ball carriers and very physical.
"It will be a great battle between the two sets of loose forwards."
While there are a number of aspects in the Kings' game that the Cheetahs will have to respond to in an effective manner - including flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis who will join Labuschagné at the Bok training camp on Sunday - Fourie kept coming back to the battle between the loose forwards.
"We got plenty of turnovers against the Reds [this past weekend] and that is something the Kings will look at, to ensure they protect their own ball.
"They succeeded in doing that [protecting the ball] very well in that game we played against them here in Bloemfontein," he said of the Cheetahs' 26-12 win last month.
By Jan de Koning