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Reuters and Jacques van der Westhuizen
JOHANNESBURG: Springbok loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira yesterday attributed South Africa’s dominant scrummaging against England in the first Test to work during the week with new scrum coach and former France international Pieter de Villiers.
The Springbok scrum dismantled England at the set-piece, helping to set up a 22-17 victory in Durban on Saturday.
England conceded two penalties and three free kicks at the scrum as South Africa’s starting front row of Mtawarira, hooker Bismarck du Plessis and tighthead Jannie du Plessis dominated from the outset. Replacement prop Coenie Oosthuizen and hooker Adriaan Strauss carried on the good work in the final quarter.
“We worked very hard on our scrum and had some good sessions during the week with Pieter de Villiers, and it was a good start. He was a great scrummager in his time, and he is a great well of knowledge, the best guy to learn from,” Mtawarira told reporters.
“Everyone was able to do as expected of him, and we had a couple of new faces (debutant Oosthuizen and the recalled Strauss) that gelled together well. We can definitely take a lot of confidence out of our scrumming in the first Test.”
De Villiers, who is South African-born but played 69 Tests in the French front row, has been putting the Springboks through a routine that has them spending a lot of time crawling on the ground. The exercises have strengthened muscles and also helped the home side dominate the crucial collisions in the second half against England.
“We needed to get used to each other in the first half, but in the second half, we got into our game, we got on the front foot,” said Mtawarira, who was at the forefront of the battle.
Meanwhile, the Springboks arrived in a chilly Johannesburg yesterday afternoon 1-0 up against England, and utility back Pat Lambie didn’t waste any time in declaring the Boks a “relieved” bunch.
Under new coach Heyneke Meyer, the Boks kicked off the three-Test series with a win at Kings Park, and while it was a far from convincing performance, there was enough shown to suggest that with more time, the Boks under Meyer could become a real force in the game.
The first-half effort was particularly disappointing, but that was perhaps to be expected, considering so much has changed in the Bok set-up this season. Also, Meyer and his coaching team have had precious little time to prepare the squad ahead of the series.
Lambie, who added some much-needed spark to the backs when he entered the fray on Saturday, said yesterday there was a sense of relief in the squad.
“I think everyone is quite relieved (the first one is out of the way). There were a lot of nerves yesterday (Saturday), with new faces in the team and a whole new situation with regards the management. The fact the first one is behind us and we managed to get a win under the belt is good,” the Sharks star said.
“When we got up this morning (yesterday), I got the feeling everyone was relaxed. This week will be better for everyone ... every squad member has now experienced a build-up to a Test.
“There was a lot of information to take in last week and there was a lot on everyone’s minds, but now we can work on the things that need attention. There’s also more time for us to focus ... and there will be more comfort in the environment we’re in.”
The Boks should, indeed, be better off in the lead-up to Saturday’s second Test at Coca-Cola Park. They now know what they need to fix from last Saturday, but one area they won’t be too concerned about is the scrumming.
Added Lambie: “It’s always great when the pack lay a good foundation. It was good to get this so-called new era off to a winning start ... it’s a performance we can build on.”
Lambie could find himself in the starting team for the second Test following a knee injury suffered by Zane Kirchner in the Durban Test, while other Boks nursing bumps, bruises and cuts are Jannie du Plessis, Francois Hougaard, Jean de Villiers and Bryan Habana.