Hard-grafting Hyron to challenge Ironman Nortje

Hard-grafting Hyron to challenge Ironman Nortje

A pair of South African second-row grafters will lock horns on Sunday to see who can go the distance when the Vodacom Bulls host local rivals the Cell C Sharks in a United Rugby Championship derby at Loftus Versfeld.


Bulls lock Ruan Nortje has earned the reputation as the most durable competitor in the URC, but should expect a high-altitude tussle against the ever-improving Cell C Sharks tall timber Hyron Andrews.


Nortje used the inaugural season of the BKT URC to play his way into the Springbok squad for the first time in 2022. It was due reward after he was crowned the Ironman for playing the most minutes in the 18-round league phase, and he has started six successive games this season.


The 24-year-old was a tower of strength in the win over Benetton, and his try helped kickstart an impressive offensive that ended a two-game slump for the touring Vodacom Bulls.


Nortje played all of his junior rugby for the Pretoria-based union and is held in high regard by director of rugby Jake White, who has locked in the hard-working skyscraper at Loftus until 2025. His physicality, lineout prowess and tireless work ethic echo that of Bok workhorse Franco Mostert, and he is just as fearless and athletic.


Though the former Junior Springbok doubted he would measure up against international opposition in the 2021-22 season, he has emerged as one of the stars in his own right.


“There were a few games where I was in a dark tunnel, but it’s about how you work through that towards the light at the end of it. I am thankful for pushing through and the opportunities I’ve been given,” he said.


The gangly Andrews similarly combines supreme athleticism with set-phase efficiency for the Cell C Sharks, yet the 27-year-old adds just as much impact through his striking mobility around the park.
Andrews, a product of Hoërskool Garsfontein in Pretoria, represented the Vodacom Bulls at age-group level before joining the Sharks Academy in 2014, and made his first-class debut the following year.


He was named in the Junior Springbok squad for the 2015 World Rugby U20 Championship, yet was limited to just one substitute appearance in the pool stages.


Now, rubbing shoulders with Bok enforcer Eben Etzebeth at the Shark Tank has done wonders for Andrews’ confidence, and the Paarl-born pillar was tied to the hip of the Test centurion in a victory over Glasgow at Kings Park Stadium.


“Every time I get an opportunity to put on the jersey I get an opportunity to represent where I come from, and where I am heading,” said Andrews.


“Life is not easy and there’s going to be obstacles in your way. But as long as you put your head down, set goals and keep on grinding … you can overcome them.”


A regional derby is traditionally a slugfest from start to finish, and Nortje and Andrews will be jumping for places in the pecking order when they square up at the first lineout on Sunday.

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