JOHANNESBURG – Don't throw Beast away just yet! That was the emphatic plea of Springbok scrum guru Matt Proudfoot on Tuesday.
Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira has come under some criticism in recent times with detractors suggesting his time in a Bok jersey is up, but Proudfoot said the veteran loosehead prop, who is in his 10th season with the Boks, was a key factor in the scrumming success of the team over the past few years.
Proudfoot said that as the senior front-ranker in the current squad, Mtawarira’s contribution in helping to grow the likes of Frans Malherbe, Steven Kitshoff, Ruan Dreyer and even fringe props like Ox Nche, Thomas du Toit and Wilco Louw, is massive.
“To say a guy with 90 caps is past it is crazy,” said Proudfoot. “He’s been incredible. Talk to any of the props ... he’s been great.
“When we talk about the dark art of scrumming it comes with experience. He has so much knowledge. He’s been there, like Coenie (Oosthuizen) as well ... they can pass all of that on to the rest of the guys.”
The Boks have been a powerful scrum unit in the current series against France – labelled one of the best scrumming teams in the Six Nations by Proudfoot – and Mtawarira’s visible show of satisfaction when the Boks won a scrum penalty in Durban on Saturday tells you everything about what winning a front row battle is all about.
“The guys take pride in their scrumming,” explained Proudfoot. “When guys invest in it and they get a success it’s a massive boost.
“I’m so pleased about our prop stocks ... the guys who are here and also the fringe guys (at the SA “A” team) ... they’re all dynamic personalities, and it bodes well for the future of South African rugby.
“They’re all making their own contribution, since the first camp of the year. You see Coenie and Ruan talking about bind positions ... all of them are working together to be a dominant pack, and that stems from the appetite to be successful.
“They’re all constantly upskilling each other and that is pleasing. They’re the experts; I’m just creating the environment for them to work in.”
Mtawarira, with all his experience, is expected to earn cap number 90 for the Boks on Saturday in the third Test against the French at Ellis Park, and he may have a new tighthead prop packing down with him – Lions star Ruan Dreyer.
The Lions man is rumoured to be in line to get a start on his home turf, but when asked about the possibility, Proudfoot said the decision lay with head coach Allister Coetzee.
“Allister has spoken about building capacity, to try to get growth in the front row, but the problem is the four guys (who’ve been in the matchday squad so far) have been playing well and you have to reward them,” said Proudfoot.
“It’s not my decision to make, but I will give my best assessment to the coach about what I feel is best for the challenge and the coach will make the decision.”
Meanwhile there will definitely be changes at outside centre, scrumhalf and blindside flank. Lionel Mapoe – who started in Durban – has been released from the squad to play for the SA “A” team, opening the door for Jesse Kriel to take over at 13 again, while Oupa Mohoje’s concussion means Jean-Luc du Preez is likely to get a start at blindside flank.
And, with Ross Cronje ruled out late on Tuesday because of concussion – which was only picked up by the team’s medical staff on Monday afternoon – there’s an opportunity for Francois Hougaard and Rudy Paige to get some game time on Saturday.
Coetzee will name his lineup on Thursday afternoon.