PRETORIA - It has been almost a decade since Springbok prop Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira put on the Green and Gold jersey for the first time.
And even with the experience of having played in 92 Tests - his debut was against Wales as a 22-year-old - Mtawarira feels that there is still a lot more he can improve on, especially with the tricky Wallabies on the horizon. The Beast knows all about scrummaging and one should take heed of his warning about how tough the Australian scrum will be on Saturday in Perth in their Rugby Championship encounter.
The 32-year-old Mtawarira, though, is not disregarding the domineering scrum performances of the Springboks in the consecutive wins against Argentina’s bajada scrum but believes they can still improve on those performances, which had many of his detractors eating humble pie.
“I think the scrum has gone really well in the first two games but we are a work-in-progress and the one thing about us is that we want to keep working hard to improve every weekend. Obviously, the Wallabies present a tough challenge upfront, so for us it is about making sure we get those one-percenters right and we get better on the weekend,” said Mtawarira from Perth this week.
Clearly with the benefit of hindsight, Mtawarira now fully appreciates the 'live' scrummaging that the Springboks have been doing as opposed to the less effective method of packing down against a scrum machine.
The much improved Boks' scrum has benefited from the live scrums and so too Mtawarira, who is looking every bit as fearful and domineering as he was during the 2009 British and Irish Lions series victory.
“I think live scrumming has really benefited us as a pack and is the best way to prepare for a Test because you're not going to be going against a scrum machine on a Saturday. You actually have a pack in front of you and we make it pretty difficult for each other, there are different scenarios and we make sure that you work on those things and it’s all muscle memory on a Saturday. So, it really is a good thing and we must keep at it.”
As the elder statesman in the formidable Springbok frontrow, which includes hooker Malcolm Marx and Sharks teammate Coenie Oosthuizen, Mtawarira revealed that he feels younger and stronger again, just like in his fledgling years alongside the Du Plessis brothers Bismarck and Jannie.
Mtawarira had formed an unbreakable bond with the Du Plessis brothers, both at the Sharks and in the Springbok team, in the eight years they played along each other and admits to getting the same feeling from Marx and Oosthuizen.
“It is really great to scrum with a guy like Malcolm Marx, he is a very strong hooker and reminds me a lot of Bismarck. He really is dominant upfront and I obviously try to feed off him. As a frontrow, we are quite young and we are still growing and every weekend is an opportunity to get better. So, we are looking forward to getting better this weekend.”
The one thing that Mtawarira has been consistent with in all of his years wearing the Green and Gold, has been the manner in which he wears his heart on his sleeve, now especially in defence.
“I think defence is an attitude thing and that is what Brendan (Venter) has brought in. We want to show each other our hearts on defence and how much we feel for the next guy. We are working hard every week and at training as well it is very physical with guys putting in some physical hits to inspire the whole team. That is what we want to do on the field on Saturday.”