Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Seasoned Lions prop JP Smith looking forward to taking on Sharks’ Bok front row

Smith is particularly excited to come up against Koch, who he has enjoyed some good scrum battles with since their school days.

Lions prop JP Smith is excited and thoroughly looking forward to the challenge that he will face against a Springbok World Cup winning front row when the Lions and Sharks battle it out in their United Rugby Championship (URC) match at Ellis Park on Saturday afternoon.

The Sharks will likely back the formidable front three of Ox Nche, Bongi Mbonambi and Vincent Koch for the important game, which will be a huge test for a Lions front three without any international experience.

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Smith is however well travelled, having started his career at Western Province, before featuring for both the Brumbies and Reds in Australia, and then moving on to a short stint in Major League Rugby in America before returning to SA to join up with the Lions in 2021.

Smith v Koch

He is particularly excited to come up against Koch, who he has enjoyed some good scrum battles with since their school days.

“I have scrummed a few times against him. Obviously when I was at school, he was at Wellington and I was at Paarl Gym, but also over the years when he was at Stade Francais as well,” said Smith.

“It is always a challenge, he is a two time World Cup winner, and with the likes of Bongi and Ox next to him you don’t get much better than that.

“So it is a massive challenge for us. Especially after our last performance (against the Bulls) we really want to make a step up.”

The last two games for the Lions pack, both against the Bulls, have seen markedly different performances after they put in a superb shift in the first clash at Loftus, but were then dominated in the return match at Ellis Park.

Bounce back

They will thus be eager to bounce back with a strong showing and there is no better front row to make a statement against than an internationally laden Sharks.

“If we stick to our system and back the eight who are playing we will be fine. We take a lot of pride in our scrum, so our performance against the Bulls was really disappointing for us. We are really looking to improve this weekend,” admitted Smith.

“I think subconsciously you get up for it a bit more (against the Sharks). I am not saying that you don’t get up for every game.

“But you know you need to make a step up (against Bok players). Measuring yourself against that calibre of players is massive, so I personally look forward to it and I know the boys are looking forward to it as well.”

Some Lions players, such as prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye who has enjoyed a a superb season but missed out on selection to the Springbok alignment camp in Cape Town next week, will be eager to make a statement as well.

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