BLOEMFONTEIN – Springbok loosehead Tendai Mtawarira, popularly known as “Beast”, revealed how the president rang him to celebrate his 100th cap ahead of South Africa’s Test series win over England on Saturday.
Mtawarira told journalists after his side’s 23-12 win in the second Test at the Free State Stadium that he initially challenged the telephone well-wisher – who turned out to be President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“The first thing I said was ‘Who’s speaking?’
‘The president.’ ‘Oh!’” he said to laughter. “When I realised who it was, I got very formal, very quickly. He thanked me for what I had done and for inspiring South Africans – I was just really surprised that he knew who I was.”
Coach Rassie Erasmus also paid tribute to him. “It was of course a big day for this guy,” he said, gesturing at Mtawarira. “From where Beast ran on (and) people react like that... it does give you an edge. It’s a special day.”
Erasmus said that as with the first Test encounter last weekend in Johannesburg, the Boks struggled in the game’s opening moments. “Only being behind 12 points instead of 24 points helped. We got our composure back quickly,” he said.
“This week (recovery) was a little bit quicker, but there was still a lot of mistakes. The previous game showed us that it doesn’t matter how far you’re down, you can come back... especially this team.”
Erasmus said that the challenges faced by the Boks would stand them in good stead for the third and final Test at Newlands in Cape Town next Saturday. “What the players learnt last week and this week will only help our game in the future,” said Erasmus.
“There was a lot of things we did wrong, but the character was good. For the boys to get it right after that shocking (first) 12 minutes... to go from 12-nil down to beat them, we can build on that.”
Erasmus warned against attaching too much importance to the victories over England, and stressed there was still work to be done.
“That last Test match is one we saw as important to win... no one was going to say (otherwise),” he said. “It’s good to see the guys under different pressure in different circumstances – but yes we were breathing easier. I know next week is a massive Test match.”
Asked about apparent tensions on the pitch, captain Siya Kolisi said he “knew those moments would come”. “The best thing was the guys reacted very well... the referee made it quite clear he wanted no more, so we kind of calmed down after that,” he said.
“Having a guy like Beast... keeps it under control.”