Tendai Mtawarira, in only his second season of international rugby, left his mark on the first Test between South Africa and the British & Irish Lions in the most emphatic way possible.
Not only did he destroy the reputation of veteran Lions and England World Cup winner Phil Vickery, he also laid the platform for South Africa’s 26-21 win in the first of three Tests – putting the Springboks in pole position in the series, writes Jan de Koning of www.rugby365.com.
From the very first scrum he attacked the veteran Lions front row forward – earning his team a string of penalties at scrum time, two of which were converted into points – and it came as no surprise when Vickery was replaced by Welshman Adam Jones as early as the 44th minute.
While the Lions chose to bemoan New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence’s interpretation and scrum rulings, the South Africans were singing the praises of the man affectionately known as ‘The Beast’.
What makes Mtawarira’s performance so remarkable is the contrasts between him and Vickery.
The England and Lions player, Vickery, has been a prop all his life and made his Test debut 11 years ago – earning 73 caps for his country, including winning the 2003 World Cup. He was also a mainstay of the Lions team in Australia in 2001. At age 33 he is meant to be at the peak of his powers as a tight forward.
Mtawarira, in contrast, is just 23 and in only his second season of Test rugby, with just 11 caps. Even more remarkable is that the Zimbabwean, who played all of his junior and some senior rugby as a loose forward, was only converted to prop a few years ago.
While Mtawarira was rather modest about his achievements, and gave credit to team work, Bok captain John Smit did not hesitate to sing the praises of the young prop.
“Tendai, he played a really big role today,” Smit told a media gathering in Durban.
“He was up against a hardened campaigner in Phil Vickery, who is a seasoned player and the effort he put in and the accuracy he showed at scrum time helped us build pressure on the Lions,” Smit said about his teammate.
The Bok captain also made reference to the hype about the Boks’ supposed scrum weakness during the build-up to the Test.
“All the talk was about the scrummaging and it was an area we worked hard on,” the Bok captain said, adding: “There were a lot of sessions and a lot of live sessions against the Emerging Boks, which was tough.
“I suppose all the talk from you guys [the media] made sure that we did our homework.”
Smit said the Boks, while happy with the set piece dominance they had in the first Test, the Boks are not going to ease up now.
“While we are happy with the outcome, we will have to keep on working.
“The Lions won’t take this lying down, they will come back twice as strong.”
Mtawarira said the scrumming success was because the Boks “worked very hard as a pack”.
“He [Vickery] is a great scrummager and we got it right today, but there is still a lot of hard work to be done,” the Bok prop said.
“They [the Lions] will come back at us and we have to work hard because next week [in Pretoria] is going to be much harder,” he added.Tweet