DURBAN - Mark Andrews remembers vividly packing down behind two nutty hookers who both knocked the living daylights out of Sean Fitzpatrick in matches against the All Blacks in New Zealand in the late ‘90s.
Once was when fiery John Allan infamously went into a head-butting frenzy against Fitzy in the first scrum of a match in 1997, resulting in an incredulous Fitzpatrick asking: “What are you on?!”
The second was a few years later when James Dalton was the hooker, and he was never shy of a scrap.
“Ja, our hookers were not too fond of Fitzy during game time. John and James would have been in a long queue of Boks who wanted to give Fizpatrick a klap, and they are two who got it right,” Andrews smiles.
“James gave the best upper cut I have ever seen, so much so that as the scrum broke up, from scrumming behind Os (Du Randt), I saw Fitzy’s eyes rolling - he was out cold on his feet and his nose was bleeding. When he came to, he asked James why he had done that, and James gave him such a torrent of unsavoury words as to why he deserved a smack that my eyes widened ....
“But after the game we all had a beer. There was many a game like that, when we got stuck into each other, absolutely knocked the crap out of each other, because that is the way it has been since the first Test between the countries a hundred years ago.”
Andrews says he is not championing violence, and admits the game has changed a lot in the modern era, but he says that physical confrontation (within the rules) remains a non-negotiable if you are to have a hope of beating the All Blacks, especially in New Zealand.
“You have to take them on, especially at the breakdowns, you cannot take a step back, and the British and Irish Lions showed that if you smash the All Blacks at the breakdowns and prevent them from getting momentum, you have a chance,” Andrews says.
“Allow them to get on the front foot and have their strike runners hitting you with support in numbers, then it is just a question of time before they score.”
But can the current crop of Boks emulate the Lions, who won and drew a Test in New Zealand in June, and the Wallabies who led the All Blacks until the 78th minute of their Test in Dunedin a few weeks ago?
“The thing is you do not believe you can beat the All Blacks until you beat the All Blacks, and I don’t think there are too many guys in the current squad who have won a match against them.”
The last time that happened was at Ellis Park when an unforgettable late penalty by Patrick Lambie earned the Boks a dramatic 27-25 win. The only current squad members involved that day are Eben Etzebeth, Jan Serfontein, Trevor Nyakane, Handre Pollard and Tendai Mtawarira. Of that small group, only The Beast, Serfontein and captain Etzebeth are starting.
“You have to get them on the back foot from the first whistle through sheer physical commitment, being very disciplined and getting a few refereeing decisions going your way and, above all, you have to get the balance right between committing numbers to the breakdown to stop them getting front ball and having enough defenders to close their attacking space.
“It is a fine line. Get it wrong, and they get front foot ball and you have not got enough players out wide, they will run into the gaps and it is ‘good night’,” the 45-year-old said.
“My first Test against the All Blacks was in Dunedin 1994 and I looked forward to the haka. I thought ‘Cool. It will be quite funny to see this little dance'. But I have to admit I got a fright. It was very intimidating. It took the wind out of my sails.