Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – They are as close as it gets to
cult figures of the front row ... and now the Chiefs’ shiny-domed loosehead
prop Sona Taumalolo comes up against another global favourite in a No 1 jersey,
Tendai Mtawarira of the Sharks, in Saturday’s Super Rugby final (09:35 SA time)
Of course they will not actually go head to
head at scrum-time -- unless through makeshift necessity during the contest -- but
it is in close-quarters mauling and driving play that this pair may well be
most closely monitored for bragging rights at Waikato Stadium.
Taumalolo and Mtawarira certainly qualify
as two of the most recognisable and crowd-pleasing looseheads, just about
anywhere on the rugby-playing planet.
The former (also known as “Arizona”, which
somehow adds to his broad appeal geographically) is a charismatic Tongan
international, shortly bidding farewell to the Chiefs and heading to France on
a three-year deal with Perpignan, so he will naturally be eyeing an appropriate
send-off on Saturday.
Taumalolo’s leg drive near the opposition
try-line has become the stuff of legend this season, as he has registered nine
tries in Super Rugby – including one in the minor upset semi-final victory over
the Crusaders last week, even if outspoken former All Black prop Richard Loe
later described it as “looking a bit fishy” after repeated replays and approval
by TMO verdict.
Whatever the legitimacy of his own
five-point contribution to the 20-17 score-line, Taumalolo was particularly
fired-up generally in the semi, where he was a key element in the Chiefs’
pretty obvious plan to get in the ‘Saders faces and rattle them by fair means
or occasionally borderline foul.
There was little wrong with the 113kg,
1.85m front-ranker’s scrummaging, either, as Richie McCaw’s side were unable to
gain quite the sort of foothold in the set-piece they doubtless anticipated.
His No 1 counterpart on Saturday,
meanwhile, the ever-popular “Beast”, stamped his own mark on the other
semi-final at Newlands.
Home team the Stormers were first to make a
big early statement in the bruising all-South African affair when a marauding
Eben Etzebeth sent Bismarck du Plessis, not one normally seen in this pose,
sprawling groggily to the turf.
The Sharks needed a response and it came
with comforting rapidity for them ... Springbok Mtawarira produced one of his
revered, destructive heaves on Stormers tighthead Brok Harris, bending him
backwards at a scrum amidst much whooping from the Sharks eight and an
unusually animated display of growling satisfaction from the loosehead himself.
Mtawarira is a senior, “go to” man, that’s
for sure, when Keegan Daniel’s team are looking for a moment or two of
inspiration, and apart from his exceptional prowess in the scrums when the mood
grabs him, he is just like Taumalolo in relishing every chance to place the
ball under an arm and bulldoze his way ahead, amidst inevitable chants of
“Beeeeast” from the stands.
Of course Mtawarira (a tad bulkier than
Taumalolo at 116kg but a slightly shorter 1.82m) is as likely as any Sharks
colleague in the pack, in particular, to be vulnerable to fatigue as the final
runs its course, given the extraordinary travel burden on the Sharks preceding
But one thing in his favour is that for
game-time this year he remains lighter than most team-mates, given that he
broke a bone in an ankle in pre-season and missed many early weeks of the Super
Rugby ordinary season.
Included in that layoff was the April meeting
between these very sides at Mr Price Kings Park, where Ryan Kankowski – more
recently a revelation – was another absentee and the Sharks were beaten 18-12.
The workmanlike young Dale Chadwick
deputised at No 1 that day, when Taumalolo was at his equivalent post for the
But now, in the fitting environment of the
2012 final, we belatedly get to see Beast v Sona in a veritable battle of
ball-carrying bison ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing