JOHANNESBURG - It’s almost been a decade since Springbok prop Frans Malherbe scrummed down against England prop Mako Vunipola. Both of them then were eager youngsters trying to make a name for themselves.
Vunipola has had a glittering international career having amassed 50 caps for England while his club Saracens have been dominant in England. Malherbe, on the other hand, has had a career curtailed by injuries and more recently a neck injury that threatened to end his playing career.
On Saturday in the second Test between the Springboks and England in Bloemfontein the two props will rekindle their meeting that happened nine years ago down the road in Kimberley. While Vunipola will be looking at lending a hand with his years of experience in levelling the series for England, Malherbe will want to get his own over Vunipola but more importantly he will be out to prove that he belongs in his team and at international level after almost having it taken away from him.
“I scrummed against him when we were matric in 2009 while playing for SA Schools against England Under-18 right next door in Kimberley. It was quite tough, but I would say it was 50-50,” said Malherbe. “Obviously it's a privilege to be back in the Springbok set up again. I have been with the guys for three weeks now and it's good to be in the green and gold again.
"I missed playing, that is probably the biggest thing. To play again, to wear the jersey and be with the guys. You don't get to see them often in Super Rugby and in camp with the Boks we are together most of the time. I think I missed that too. There are guys who stuck with me six months ago, started a relationship with me medically and have walked this road with me after the neck injury. To be playing again is a massive repayment and to play well at this level will be very good,” Malherbe added.
But Malherbe is under no illusion that his return to Test rugby won’t be a walk in the park and that England will be seeking redemption for a scrum performance that was dominated in the latter parts of the Test at Ellis Park. Malherbe believes that the Springboks performance at scrum time will come down to his role in making sure that he acts as an anchor.
“If you doubt yourself or you don't cherish it at this level, the pressure will get to you,” said Malherbe. “I still believe, as a prop, it's going to be massively physical. The scrums are going to be vital, we must have a solid platform, so the onus will be on myself and the rest of the guys.”
And as much as Malherbe will be feeling the pressure to win his personal duel against the experience of Vunipola while fighting for his place back in the Springbok fray, Malherbe has vowed to do everything in his power to make fellow frontrow Tendai Mtawarira’s 100th appearance for the Springboks a memorable one.
“It's an amazing achievement and I'm very proud of him. What an honour to play alongside him in his 100th Test. He was there when I made my debut and I will do anything to make it special for him on Saturday,” Malherbe said.