DURBAN – A lot has been made of the Sharks’ scrum since their first baptism of fire against the Lions at Ellis Park. Thomas du Toit’s move to tighthead was questioned, Beast Mtawarira’s absence was notable, and the doomsday-preppers had their knives out early for the Sharks’ forward pack.
However, as the season has worn on, the woes up front have all but abated. Du Toit, now with nine games under his belt, looks far more comfortable on the tighthead side, and even in Mtawarira’s absence, Juan Schoeman and Mzamo Majola have deputised well.
The Sharks had a real point to prove, before their bye, when they took on the two best props in the country in Wilco Louw and Steven Kitshoff, and held them comfortably. Not much was made of it, because there was little fireworks in the scrum, either way.
A lot of that has to do with the incremental improvement the Sharks have been aiming for over the past nine rounds.
Schoeman, only 26, has been playing behind Mtawarira, and standing in a fair bit with the veteran missing the last two games. Schoeman says they are getting better all the time.
“I have been fortunate to play behind a guy like Beast, with all of his experience,” Schoeman said. “You can learn so much from him, and it is important to use every opportunity to its fullest potential, to give your very best. “
Schoeman has had a decent chunk of time on the park, off the bench and in Mtawarira’s stead, and his personal growth is testament to the entire pack’s improvement.
“I have been fortunate to get a lot of chances this year. Our scrums have been improving, and our focus is just weekly improvement,” he added.
The scrum however is no longer a prop-exclusive arena. The likes of the Lions were one of the latest to prove that with their powerful eight-man efforts.
Schoeman adds that indeed, for the Sharks, and for most teams, there is a lot that goes into a powerful scrum.
“These days all eight have to scrum together, so every guy’s power is important in the scrum, and their technique,” Schoeman explained. “If everyone can just up their power and technique, and attitude, on the day, the pack who does that the best will go forward.”
The Sharks will be up against a Highlanders pack that did not impress in their one-point victory against the Bulls. The Pretoria side had the dominance in that facet, as well as in the possession stakes, but still managed to lose the match.
Schoeman is expecting more out of the Kiwi side though, stating that teams have been able to turn weakness into strength in the matter of a week this season.
“This Super Rugby season has been strange, in one week, a team will get well beaten but then they turn things around in a week’s time,” the prop said. “I think the Highlanders will be working hard on their scrums and it will be a different picture this coming weekend.”
“Their defence is very good so we have to make sure that we give ourselves some time to play with the ball, to keep the ball."
"That will be vital.”