The Springbok scrum dismantled England at the set-piece, helping to set up a 22-17 victory in Durban in the first test. England conceded two penalties and three free kicks at the scrum as South Africa’s starting front row of Mtawarira, hooker Bismarck du Plessis and tighthead Jannie du Plessis dominated from the outset, before replacement prop Coenie Oosthuizen and hooker Adriaan Strauss carried on the good work in the final quarter.
“We worked very hard on our scrum and had some good sessions during the week with Pieter de Villiers and it was a good start. He was a great scrummager in his time and he is a great well of knowledge, the best guy to learn from,” Mtawarira told reporters in Johannesburg on Sunday.
“Everyone was able to do as expected of him and we had a couple of new faces [debutant Oosthuizen and the recalled Strauss] that gelled together well. We can definitely take a lot of confidence out of our scrumming in the first test.”
De Villiers, who is South African-born but played 69 tests in the French front row, has been putting the Springboks through a gut-wrenching core-strengthening regimen that has seen them spending a lot of time crawling on the ground, but these exercises have provided tremendous muscle and also helped the home side dominant the crucial collisions in the second half against England.
“We needed to get used to each other in the first half, but in the second half we got into our game, we got on the front foot,” Mtawarira, who was at the forefront of the battle in the tight-loose, said.
While England’s recalcitrance at the scrum cost them points, it also proved a morale-booster for the Springbok backline.
“You can get a lot of penalties at the scrum now with the new rules and it needs to be a major focus. But it also gives a front-foot platform to launch attacks from and set up better field-position,” replacement back Pat Lambie said.
Lambie came on for the second half and helped the Springboks to two second-half tries, having replaced fullback Zane Kirchner, who suffered a knee injury.
Springbok media manager De Jongh Borchardt said Kirchner’s fitness was the one serious injury concern, while Jannie du Plessis, wing Bryan Habana, centre Jean de Villiers and scrumhalf Francois Hougaard all suffered facial lacerations in a no-holds-barred contest.
Lambie said the Springboks, under new coach Heyneke Meyer and a new captain in De Villiers, were very nervous ahead of the test.
“We were relieved to win because there were a lot of nerves yesterday. It’s just really nice to get the first one behind us, everyone’s chuffed to get the win out of the way. Everyone’s a bit more relaxed now. Last week, being our first week together, there was a lot to take in, but this week it will be nice to be able to focus on the things we need to work on,” Lambie said.