Cape Town - The new-look Springbok scrum will face its severest test yet when South Africa face France at Newlands on Saturday.
The last time these two sides met in Toulouse last November the French laid the platform for their win around a ferocious scrumming effort, with that aspect of the game determining the momentum which France feasted off en route to a 20-13 victory that was probably more emphatic than that scoreline suggests.
Veteran French hooker Dimitri Szarezewski agreed that the Bok scrum would be targeted.
“We have only seen highlights so far of the Welsh game so have not had a close look at their scrumming in that match, but once we have done our video session I am sure it is an area we will be targeting,” said Szarzewski.
However, although the Bok scrum did struggle against Wales, since the Toulouse match seven months ago there have been key changes to the Bok front-row that should make them a stronger unit.
The week after the French test on the last end of year tour, the Bok scrum was exposed for the first hour by Italy. But in the last quarter the game changed when BJ Botha came on at tighthead prop and John Smit moved back to hooker.
It was to prove the end of the Smit at tighthead experiment, as the same front-row was then selected for the following Test against Ireland in Dublin. The Boks lost at Croke Park, but the scrumming was solid, more solid perhaps than it had been for most of the year.
That said, scrumming is not one of Ireland’s strong-points at the moment, and the French will pose a different threat. Listening to John Smit speak this week, you get the impression that the Boks acknowledge that, and they have been putting in extra work on their scrumming with new scrum coach, Os du Randt.
The Boks also have Gurthro Steenkamp back as a replacement for CJ van der Linde. Although Van der Linde is effective on both sides of the scrum, last week he was at loosehead. He has played most of his rugby at tighthead.
Just a year ago it seemed that Steenkamp might be going nowhere in his career as his scrumming had been repeatedly exposed at all levels. However, the recent Super 14 season changed all that, with the Bulls scrum taking a significant step forward under the tutelage of Johan van Graan and Steenkamp was a big part of the resurgence.
“Gurthro has put in a lot of hard work on his scrumming and has made some significant improvements that he should be praised for doing,” said Smit.
The emphasis that the Boks are putting into the scrums is something that has been noticed by the French, who may be aware that the South Africans were caught off-guard last time.
“It is true that we dominated the scrum in Toulouse, but this is another game and we know that the Springboks will be waiting for us to attack their scrum. It is going to be very tough,” said Szarzewski.
The 44-capped French hooker is preparing himself for a brutally physical encounter with the Boks, and he knows the French ability to stand up to the Boks physically is one of the main reasons that nation boasts a better record against South Africa recently than does New Zealand or Australia.
“The Springboks play a very physical and direct game, it is part of their culture. Their game is based on a strong pack of forwards, which is similar to France.”