A tale of two twos?

They tend to keep their heads down and come to prominence only when they start throwing the ball in like a drunken sailor, but that may all change on Saturday as two of the most exciting hookers in world rugby go head to head. [more]

A tale of two twos?

They tend to keep their heads down and come to prominence only when they start throwing the ball in like a drunken sailor, but that may all change on Saturday as two of the most exciting hookers in world rugby go head to head.

South Africa travel to Perth fresh from ending New Zealand’s five-year unbeaten home run – a victory marred only by a three-week suspension handed out to hooker Bismarck Du Plessis.

Inspirational skipper John Smit is on the injury list, so coach Peter de Villiers will hand the No 2 jersey to Schalk Brits – something that is not exactly upsetting Springbok fans, who have been demanding Brits’ Test inclusion for several seasons. In terms of national recognition, Brits is considered by many to be one of the unluckiest players in recent memory.

He is a talented ball-carrying forward with the pace of a centre, a nifty sidestep and a nose for tries, making him a firm favourite among supporters of running rugby. His set-piece work is not up to the standard of Smit, but given that the Springbok skipper is one of the few hookers at the top of world rugby who can fill in at prop, whose is?

Brits’ around-the-field work will be a dangerous weapon in a confident Springboks side, considering they already boast arguably the best back-row trio in the game, and the Wallabies are still fine-tuning their combination at the back of the scrum.

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Brits is not short of a word, either, both at scrum-time and off the field. Three years ago, he told then South Africa coach Jake White that he would seek an overseas contract if he wasn’t selected. White responded in equally blunt terms:

"He can phone the travel office and indicate whether he wants to fly BA or SAA,” he grumbled. “I won’t be bullied by players saying that they will go if I don’t pick them.

"Who is Schalk Brits? He has never even played SA under-21, has played one Super 12 season, his team is second from bottom on the log and, from what I hear, he is one of those players that don’t train on Mondays.”

Ouch. No wonder it took Brits until last month to earn his first cap – as a replacement against Italy.

But home side Australia have a crowd-pleaser of their own in 23-year-old replacement Tatafu Polota-Nau, who stormed on to the international scene three years ago by making his Test debut before his Super 14 debut.

Like most hookers, he loves running with the ball. Unlike most hookers, he’s really good at it. And don’t just take our word for it – watch this 50-metre effort on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuQp5DCfwbY

The No 2s aside, Saturday’s match could go a long way to sorting out this season’s Tri Nations winners. If Australia emerge triumphant, the three sides will be neck and neck heading into the second half of the competition; but if South Africa sneak home, the away points will take them clear of the pack.

World champions South Africa couldn’t come into this match in better form – a win in New Zealand is as good as it gets for the men in green and gold – but they will be wary of a dangerous Wallabies side. New coach Robbie Deans watched his men beat France 40-10, and the addition of key players Nathan Sharpe, Lote Tuqiri and Wycliff Palu will ensure a hard-fought battle.

And George Smith will be looking to mark his record-breaking Test with a victory. Smith becomes Australia’s most capped forward, and the third most-capped Wallaby of all time after George Gregan and David Campese, when he earns his 87th cap at the Subiaco Oval.

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