Battle of Bloem: Midfield monsters in the spotlight
Cheetahs coach Hawies Fourie and American national team counterpart Gary Gold are both euphoric about the prospect of watching two midfield behemoths go head to head.
The Cheetahs host the United States Falcons – the country’s national team in all but name – in a Challenge match in Bloemfontein on Friday.
The ‘big picture’ is about the Cheetahs preparing for their entry into the European Challenge Cup in December and the Americans preparing for their final chance at World Cup qualification when they play in a tournament in Dubai next month.
However, an absorbing sideshow will be two 100-kilogram-plus centres going head to head – two-time World Cup-winning Springbok Francois Steyn against Paul Lasike, an Auckland-born player of Tongan descent, a man who trialled for the Arizona Cardinals and played for the Chicago Bears Gridiron football teams.
Lasike’s coach, former Springbok assistant coach and now United States Eagles head coach Gary Gold, said the midfield face-off is going to be “fun” to watch.
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They are two brutal giants that do not shy away from a bit of physical contact.
Gold says Lasike, 32, learnt his Rugby Union skills growing up in New Zealand.
He moved to America on an exchange programme as a schoolboy and started playing rugby, before being scouted by National Football League (Gridiron) agents.
His flirtation with American Football lasted only a couple of seasons, before he moved back to Rugby Union.
He was called into the United States national team for the 2018 Americas Championship, earning his debut against Chile.
“He is a big, strong ball carrier,” Gold told @rugby365com, adding: “However, he also has a great passing game.”
The Cheetahs coach, Fourie, said he was expecting a few ‘big’ clashes in midfield.
“These are two very big boys,” Fourie said, adding: “It will be interesting to see who wins the small battles between them.”
Fourie said the two players certainly have different skillsets, with Steyn’s kicking the point of difference.
“We will use Frans’ kicking game, while Lasike is a good ball carrier with great running lines.
“In your 22-metre area, he comes off the blind behind forwards.
“You have to be really sharp on defence to pick him up.
“In contact, he can also offload with both hands. He is a difficult customer.
“Frans is a really competitive guy and would like to show he is better.”
Steyn made his Test debut against Ireland in 2006, age 19, and won the first of his two World Cup titles a year later. He won the second in 2019.
With 78 Test caps, the 35-year-old has the experience required to deal with the challenge that awaits.
Lasike, apart from his stints with the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears, also played for the Utah Warriors, Harlequins and London Scottish.