BEAAAST! Our bang-in-form Bok

    2018-05-24 10:47

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – Question: has anyone ever seen Tendai Mtawarira quite so fired up?

    Unable to be able to claim regular attendance at the Shark Tank, I am open to correction from sage locals.

    But last Saturday - the hard-fought but nevertheless important Super Rugby victory over the watered-down Chiefs - just seemed to sum up the current levels of desire and constructive aggression in the long-time crowd favourite they brand “the Beast”.

    At least from a televised perspective, he oozed a possibly unprecedented, animated urgency from start to finish of his power-driven shift on the day … a phenomenon that would have helped galvanise many around him, too, as the ever-unpredictable Sharks stabilised their playoffs aspirations.

    As much as he emitted great hollers of delight whenever he earned a notably dominant left shoulder at scrum time - more than once - or carried a ball fiercely, team-mates would just as quickly engulf him to confirm their gratitude and cajole him further.

    It was so clearly a simultaneous reminder of the esteem in which Mtawarira, a one-franchise man in the competition, is held in the Sharks camp.

    He has been singularly loyal to the Durban-based cause in Super Rugby since his competition debut back in 2007, when team-mates - just another sign of his longevity and durability - included Percy Montgomery, Warren Britz, Adi Jacobs, Albert van den Berg and, yes, even the now former Lions head coach Johan Ackermann.

    What’s more, he keeps on repeating those herculean feats of safely supporting the bodyweight of a lock colleague who may gather the ball high, from a hanging kick-off, and then dangerously overbalance with an awful prospect of landing hard on the head or neck.

    Despite his advancing years, Mtawarira isn’t showing any major signs yet, it seems, of interest in a lucrative overseas gig at the twilight of his career … and the words to Sport24 of Sharks CEO Gary Teichmann on Wednesday did little to suggest any change of landscape soon.

    “(Mtawarira) is playing some of his best rugby and has a major influence on the current team,” enthused the Tri-Nations-winning Bok captain of 1998.

    “He has a massive following in Durban and we would certainly like him to remain here.”

    Seeing the player so demonstratively purposeful in match situations must seem a special joy to both Sharks colleagues and supporters, considering how much more naturally unassuming and modest his off-field personality is.

    Certainly it is quickly apparent in media dealings, where the big loose-head prop does his chores willingly but always comes across as a little bashful and squints in the glare of the camera lights.

    Mtawarira is presently playing with a consistent level of general lustre I have possibly not seen from him in some eight or nine years.

    Sometimes overworked by both his franchise and the national team from one season to another, there have been reasonably long periods in between where he has appeared to operate primarily in middle gears, as it were.

    That still makes him a solid enough combatant; just nothing especially extraordinary.

    Last season and in 2016, for example, there were some often rightful views among pundits/observers that Steven Kitshoff, the barrelling Stormers man some six years the 32-year-old’s junior, sometimes warranted preference for the Springbok No 1 jersey.

    Instead Kitshoff remains far more accustomed to No 17, one of the substitute numbers: he has begun only twice from 23 Bok caps thus far.

    Is it the very threat, in 2018, of the flame-haired player from further down the coast that is ensuring Mtawarira is reaching welcome, tangible new highs at present?

    You would imagine it is a strong, obvious factor: Kitshoff can be near-unstoppable himself on a good day, both at scrum-time and in open play, and certainly looks destined to assume the first-choice baton at some point … perhaps after the 2019 World Cup, which will end with Mtawarira pretty long in the tooth at 34.

    Kitshoff’s form has sometimes teetered this season, in line with the shaky fortunes of the Stormers, but he remains a clear and present danger to Mtawarira’s customarily supreme SA status at loose-head.

    But the veteran may (no, will) also be deeply desirous to still be the “main man” at No 1 by the time the happy occurrence of his 100th Bok appearance comes along.

    It is imminent, too: currently on 98, some juncture during the three-Test home series against England in June (fitness permitting) will mark the event, and as the sixth Bok player to reach three figures.

    The fact that the English are likeliest foes on the landmark day will also resonate agreeably with the “Beast”, when you consider what remains his finest hour as a Test player.

    That was when, as a sprightly young customer in 2009 earning his 11th cap, he so violently demolished Englishman Phil Vickery repeatedly at the set-piece in the first clash with the British and Irish Lions at his home venue.  

    Mtawarira is in the kind of form and focus, nine years on, to suggest that a “carbon copy” on a hapless Test foe in June cannot be ruled out …

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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