VIDEO: Lions have snagged a 'mentality monster'
The Lions may have had their own annus horribilis in 2022 – finishing bottom of the South African Conference in the United Rugby Championship and last in the Currie Cup.
However, they have made a few astute acquisitions that could see them be a lot more competitive next season.
One of those is utility back Rynhardt Jonker, who will be a key player for Griquas when they host the Pumas in the Currie Cup Final in Kimberley on Saturday.
Jonker, who is on loan to Griquas this season, will move to the Lions in the off-season – joining up at Ellis Park with former Sharks teammates Sanele Nohamba (who has played for the Lions in the last few rounds of the Currie Cup) en Marius Louw, who was a key member of the Sharks backline in the latter stages of the current season.
Griquas coach Pieter Bergh said the Lions will have a player with enormous “self-belief and confidence”.
Although he has featured mostly in the midfield for Griquas this season, the 22-year-old Jonker is equally at home at fullback and flyhalf.
“His mentality is his strong point,” Bergh told a virtual media briefing in the build-up to Saturday’s Currie Cup Final.
The Griquas coach waxed lyrical about the young talent, like Jonker, that burst onto the scene in the Currie Cup this season.
He described the talented young backs at his disposal in Kimberley – Johan Mulder, Sango Xamlashe, Alex-Zander du Plessis and Jonker – ‘mentality monsters’.
“They just have so much belief in themselves.”
As an example of the quality of their talent, Bergh said that he started Mulder against seasoned Springbok Ruan Pienaar in a win over the Cheetahs, ahead of Stormers-bound Stefan Ungerer.
Du Plessis started at No.10, with veteran utility George Whitehead on the bench, going up against two-time World Cup-winning Springbok Frans Steyn at flyhalf.
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“I back the young guys and they stepped up to the challenge and performed against guys with so much experience,” the Griquas coach said.
“They outplayed and outclassed them that day,” he said of Griquas’ 46-18 demolition of the Cheetahs in a Round 12 match back in May.
He added that he has “full belief” they will be up for the task in Saturday’s Final.
Talking about Jonker’s move to Ellis Park, Bergh said the Lions are getting a “skilful playmaker”.
“He reads and sums up the game well,” the coach said, adding: “He can play short, throw a long bass, throw a bridge pass.
“He hasn’t kicked much [for Griquas] at No.12, but he does have a good boot on him.
“He is not a traditional ‘basher-up’ No.12 – like a [Damian] de Allende or an Andre Esterhuizen – but he is a very skilful inside centre.
“In our [Griquas] attack, we have a No.10 who can take the ball up, with Alex-Zander du Plessis who has played No.12 a lot.
“They [Du Plessis and Jonker] complement each other a lot.
“We interchange them a lot – with Rynhardt [Jonker] at first-=receiver a lot and Alex-Zander [du Plessis] will carry for us a lot.
“That helps with the balance of our team.”
Jonker, born in Richards Bay, was named in the Sharks side for the 2021 Currie Cup season.
He made his debut for the Sharks against the British & Irish Lions on July 10 and was subsequently loaned to Griquas for the 2022 edition of the Currie Cup.