Bekker says he's Andries, not Victor
He’s invariably been the understudy to Victor Matfield when he has played for the Springboks, but the pressure of being the man Argentina will be targeting for extra attention in their quest to blunt the home team’s lineout at Newlands on Saturday is not new to Andries Bekker.
He hasn’t played test rugby since June 2010, and before that most of his starting opportunities for the Boks came at No 4 lock as partner to Victor Matfield when Bakkies Botha was injured in 2008.
Most of the time when he has come on in his preferred role as the lineout kingpin, it has been late in the game, and even then more often as Matfield’s partner rather than in his place.
So with Matfield now retired, Bekker is starting out afresh on Saturday, although he gives the impression that the constant comparisons with the legendary former Bulls player could quickly become a source of irritation.
“I never wanted to be Victor, he had his own game and he was really good at what he did. I wanted to play my own game and base it around my own strengths,” said Bekker as he looked back on his career so far.
“People always want to compare you with the guy that previously played in your position, but I want to be Andries, I don’t want to be Victor.”
While Bekker may not have taken the lead role in the Bok lineout that often, the pressure of being targeted is something he has come to live with as the kingpin of the Stormers' lineout over the past few seasons.
“I am sure the Pumas will try to put pressure on me but I am used to being a target and it is something I have become comfortable with. Whether I am playing for the Boks against another country or the Stormers against the Sharks or the Bulls, you know the other team is going to be working hard at finding a way to blunt you.
“There is pressure for me to perform, but then that is the case in all the matches you play at first-class level. The threat of being dropped if you don’t perform is not unique to the Boks. You have to perform for every team you play for week in and week out or else you are going to get dropped.
“I am just really excited about this game because it has taken me a long time to get back here (because of all the injuries). I am feeling fresh after the break I was given in June and my back is feeling good. Under the circumstances it is feeling fine. And playing for the Boks at Newlands is going to be great.”
Bekker agrees that with Matfield no longer in the team this is his chance to establish himself as a permanent fixture at No 5 lock, but his respect for the man he replaces for this game, the Bulls’ Juandre Kruger, stops him for taking anything for granted.
“This is the best chance for me to start lots of tests with Victor retired now, but then again Juandre is a really good player so it does not necessarily mean there will be the same No 5 in every game.
"It’s going to be tough for me to start week in and week out with Juandre there challenging me. He had a great season with the Bulls and I thought he played well against England.”
Although at 28 he is older than many of his teammates and thus is a senior player, Bekker says he still feels a bit junior in terms of test caps (24).
However he appreciates that he is now one of the leaders in the pack, and is looking forward to the responsibility of leading the lineout against the Pumas.
And in particular, he is looking forward to teaming up with his young Stormers lock partner, Eben Etzebeth, a man who he played a big role in mentoring in his first Super Rugby season.
“Last year I was playing Super Rugby and he was playing Varsity Cup, now he is a Springbok. That shows what an awesome player he is. I am sure he will go on to play 100 tests for his country.”
When it comes to the crucial job of contesting the opposition lineout ball, Bekker knows it takes a while for players who are not used to playing together to build an understanding, but he has been happy with the progress made over the past three days.