Johannesburg - The French front row may have a reputation as masters of the dark arts, but their Springbok counterparts have been more than holding their own in the Incoming Tours Test Series right now.
According to the SuperSport website, so much so that Springbok forwards coach Matt Proudfoot has praised his charges ahead of the third Test for the way they have improved as a unit in the scrum battle against the French.
Proudfoot makes it clear that he wants the Boks to be a dominant scrum, and that it is a battle out there, but with the scrum led by veteran Beast Mtawarira the team has been taking giant steps forward against a side that prides itself on the setpiece and has ultimately come out on top in the first two tests.
While Proudfoot was as positive as he could be when talking about his pack of forwards, he knows the team have only started a process and will still need to improve significantly before they head into the bigger Rugby Championship later this year.
“I think the good thing is that all the forwards that are here have been with the Springboks before, even the youngest one Jean-Luc was here with us on the end of year tour so we’ve had a bit of continuity to this set-up. If you look at it as cold hard facts it has been a tough challenge for the pack, especially up front, the penalties have been shared between the two packs.
“Scrummaging against the French will always be tough, especially against one of the best teams in the six nations this year. We knew it would be a really tough challenge. We’ve worked from early on in our first camp on identifying areas we can work on and they’ve done very well.
“You could see Beast’s emotion after that penalty that we are getting better and we are starting to meet the objectives we’ve set for ourselves.”
Proudfoot was also quick to point out the improvement in the four props that have been in the match 23 and how they have held more than their own, and dominated more often than not in the setpiece battle.
“If you understand scrummaging at that level, where integrity and stability around the set is so paramount, there are going to be the dark arts played and we understand that. Our philosophy has been that we would like a scrummaging battle where it is pack against pack and that is what we have been striving to accomplish and I’m happy with our outcomes we have been getting. The guys have been getting better technically when you look in particular at the body engagement sequence, the height, body shape of the players. I’ve been very pleased with that and it has always been my philosophy that you can’t be dominant if you aren’t accurate and I’ve been pleased with the dominance of our pack, you’re scrumming against another pack that has a different philosophy and those things tend to happen and that’s why it is called the dark arts. It’s part of the game.”
He had special praise for the role that Mtawarira had brought to the match, saying his experience was going a long way to mentoring the younger players.
“To say a guy with 90 caps is past it is in my opinion crazy. Coenie is probably our next most experienced front row and when you talk about the dark arts it comes with experience. These guys have so much experience and just having been there and done that they pass so much on to the rest of the guys.
“Skill level – scrummaging is not a natural place for the body to be in. The big thing there is to use these guys physiques as best we can and there we talk about body position. That is the big focus for us, we talk about get them into the position and drive into a position we want to drive into. That I measure really accurately and I must say, the work I’ve seen. The work these guys put in – you don’t see it – in the gym, after sessions, binding positions and where they bind. These are the dark arts they have been mastering.
“What you must understand about a scrum is that you’re bringing a ton of weight together within 30 centimetres and there is a lot going on there. These guys have been really good there and I’ve been really pleased with the props.”
Saturday’s third Test will put Proudfoot’s team into another setpiece battle, and is a significant one to win before the bigger contests that await.
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