SPRINGBOK prop Heinke van der Merwe has been content to play second fiddle to Cian Healy as Leinster’s ‘other’ loose-head for two seasons.
He is a quiet, humble, hard-working South African who is never too far away from his close friend Richardt Strauss at scrum time and away from the game.
Now, Healy has been taken out of the equation by a knee injury to leave Van der Merwe faced with the task of subduing The Ospreys cornerstone Adam Jones.
Once an out-and-out set-piece specialist, Van der Merwe, a granite-like tackler, showed his speed to evade Craig Gilroy for Leinster’s fourth try in the Heineken Cup final.
He has shown more than that all season, playing a total of 1,499 minutes, the fourth highest on the roster behind Isa Nacewa (2,012), Devin Toner (1,795) and Strauss (1,594).
He is a valuable, even indispensible member of the first team squad and the barrier between the developing Jack McGrath and more consistent game time.
It was Healy who described Jones earlier in the week as “a top-class tight head” and how he has “found that out the hard way” in the past.
“It is just a case of scrumming against someone and trying to wear him down, catch him off his guard and get in underneath him and that is something you continuously work for,” added Healy.
No doubt, Van der Merwe would sing from the same hymn sheet. Jones is a monster in the scrum. He showed that for the British & Irish Lions in South Africa in 2009.
The Osprey (inset) is a heavy favourite, at 19 stone to hold onto the number three jersey for The Lions in Australia next summer and he is aided by the considerable set-piece power of Paul James.
Jones has also earned 80 caps for Wales and was the cement in the front-row of the 2012 Grand Slam winners. He thrives in the trenches.
He also would have prepared for Healy all week and now finds himself opposite Van der Merwe, a different type of loose-head with the same resolute attitude to scrummaging.