Tendai Mtawarira (Gallo)
London – In line with the broader Springbok
pattern at the World Cup, seasoned loosehead prop Tendai Mtawarira seems to be
warming menacingly to the occasion.
His cult following among Bok supporters
certainly acknowledged as much on Sunday morning when he earned a particularly
rousing, echoing chant of “Beeeeast” as the briefly cordoned-off squad filed
past the rest of we riff-raff at Newcastle Central Station en route over the
pedestrian bridge to their part of the platform for the (first-class) train
passage back down south to Kings Cross.
He gave a bashful wave of acknowledgement
to the many green and gold-clad enthusiasts either travelling on the same train
or others London-bound soon afterwards.
At St James’ Park, the deep-voiced but
usually reserved and unassuming Mtawarira had delivered easily his most rousing
of three appearances – all starts -- at the tournament thus far.
The long-time Sharks favourite, 30,
under-delivered like so many team-mates did in the shock, pool-opening 34-32
defeat to Japan in Brighton.
He then showed good signs of stabilising to
normal personal standards against Samoa, even after a bit of early difficulty
at scrum-time from the colossal tighthead Census Johnston.
But he was fire and brimstone from the
start to his own finish – he got a deserved call-off on the hour mark after a
busy shift, allowing for the fresh legs of Trevor Nyakane – against Scotland.
At the time of writing, he looked a
candidate for a necessary break (or perhaps curtailment to a bench spot)
against the United States on Wednesday, given the speedy turnaround to that
But in earning his 71st cap in
Newcastle, the Zimbabwean-born front-ranker provided enormous leg-drive and
upper-body muscle to some epic Bok rolling mauls, smashed the ball up
regularly, and of even greater importance got the better of his
Loeriesfontein-born Scottish rival at the set-pieces, WP Nel.
That particular one-on-one was always going
to be a source of great media interest, given their prior scraps at domestic
level when Nel was still on the Cheetahs’ books at Super Rugby and Currie Cup
You could sense at a media briefing
attended by Mtawarira before the Scotland game that some journalists were
almost brave enough to suggest he had also had some tough prior days at the
office against the low-centre-of-gravity Nel.
One chose to ask, in a roundabout way:
“Could you say you had things all your own way in your previous battles with
The Beast gave a diplomatic but honest
answer: “No, definitely not.”
But you also picked up the distinct impression
that Mtawarira was only too aware the suggestion was in the air that Nel could
prove a handful to him anew at St James’ Park.
So when the teams ran out for the hugely
atmospheric occasion on Saturday, the Bok No 1 positively oozed intent and
no-nonsense body language, even if he may never again quite manage the level of
spectacular destruction and mastery he enjoyed over poor Phil Vickery in that
memorable Lions Test of 2009.
If anything, he may have regretted that
there weren’t more scrums on the day, given the strength of some of the “left
shoulders” he engineered against his tighthead opponent at the weekend.
So pumped up was Mtawarira for the full
hour he contributed that at one stage he even gave an unusually acidic,
close-up verbal send-off to Scottish skipper and scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw when
he was yellow-carded for tackling a flying Bryan Habana without the ball after
the wing had chipped it ahead and a possible try opportunity beckoned for the
On the BBC’s legendary “Match of the Day”
English Premiership football highlights show on Sunday night, pundit and former
England striker Alan Shearer spoke of “liking him when he’s got his angry head
on” in reference to Everton’s striker Romelu Lukaku, scorer of the equaliser in
the drawn Merseyside derby with Liverpool.
Bok enthusiasts, similarly, must enjoy Tendai
Nihal Mtawarira when there’s a bee buzzing in his rugby union bonnet.
One or two more such occasions at the World
Cup could come in particularly useful ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the Bok pool phase
of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.