Rugby Championship

Mtawarira: 95 Tests and approaching greatness

2017-10-03 14:30
Beast Mtawarira (Gallo)

Cape Town - If Tendai Mtawarira plays in each of the remaining five Springbok Tests in 2017, he will earn his 100th cap against Wales in Cardiff on December 2. 

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And, with the form he has shown so far this year, there is no reason to think that won't happen. 

Now 32-years-old, Mtawarira has rediscovered his old self.

Having come in for some criticism after what was a disastrous 2016 for Springbok rugby, and with the likes of Steven Kitshoff knocking on the door, it was easy to wonder just how much gas the 'Beast' had left in the tank. 

Yet, eight matches into the international season, he has emerged as one of South Africa's most valuable assets this year. 

His scrummaging is as solid as ever, he has been immense on defence and he is running the ball with an intensity and ferocity that was a hallmark of his game in the early years. 

According to Bok scrum coach Matt Proudfoot, it is Mtawarira's work ethic that has helped keep him at the highest level.

"I think Beast is really focused on what he wants to achieve," Proudfoot told media in Cape Town on Tuesday.

"The parameters Allister set out at the beginning of the year about work-rate and conditioning, he has taken on board as a 30-year-old and said if Steven (Kitshoff) can run a repeated sprint at that (time), then I have to do it.

"When a senior guy with 95 caps sets that type of working environment, it's very easy for the younger guys to follow.

"That's leadership. I'm very proud of what he has achieved, not just his scrummaging ability but his play and defensive play."

Experience, Proudfoot said, was everything when it came to the front row and likened Mtawarira to Springbok legend and two-time World Cup winner, Os du Randt.

"He's the most experienced South African prop of all time. I played against Os (Du Randt) ... in the years I played experience counted for everything," Proudfoot said.

"Os won two World Cups ... they're pretty similar types of players.

"You can't chuck that type of player away. When Jake went and fetched him (Du Randt) out of retirement to come back at that World Cup in 2007 he was incredible.

"Front row is about experience and about learning ... every scrum presents you with a different challenge and you only pick that up by learning the trade at the coalface."

With 2019 in mind, and given how much rugby Mtawarira and a lot of his Bok team-mates have had to play over the past two years, Proudfoot acknowledged that it would be important to manage him carefully.

"He had a break after the June series from Super Rugby and I think he came into good form after having that break. I think it's important to do that to senior players," he said.

Should the Boks need to go without Mtawarira for whatever reason, Proudfoot was confident that there was enough depth in the position and he referred to Kitshoff, Lizo Gqoboka, Ox Nche and Thomas du Toit as "unbelievable" looseheads. 

For a guy who made his debut in the front row as far back as 2008 to still be having the kind of impact on the international stage as Mtawarira currently does is undoubtedly something special. 

And, it seems, he is far from done. 

At this stage, only five men have more Boks caps than Mtawarira. They are Victor Matfield (127), Bryan Habana (124), John Smit (111), Jean de Villiers (109) and Percy Montgomery (102). 

You don't get to those kinds of numbers unless you are a seriously special player.

"When he stands and talks, guys listen," Proudfoot added.

Mtawarira and the Boks will take on the All Blacks at Newlands on Saturday in the final game of their Rugby Championship campaign.

Kick-off is at 17:05.

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