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Ken Borland

Bok front row is top-class – Matfield 0

Posted on August 29, 2014 by Ken

Victor Matfield said on Friday that the Sharks front row of Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis is a top-class unit and their struggles in the Springbok scrums against Argentina last weekend was just a case of a bad day at the office.

The Springboks were given a torrid time in the scrums by a fearsome Argentinian unit and, although that set-piece has been a focus of the team this week, Matfield said he expected a much-improved performance next weekend against Australia in Perth.

“It’s just one game that our scrum wasn’t good enough. But they are all fantastic players, the Sharks have had the best front row and they were all brilliant for the Springboks last year. I’m sure they will bounce back.

“The set-piece is a very important part of the game and the only way to fix it is out on the training field. We’ve looked at the video and we’ve been scrumming yesterday and today and will also be scrumming tomorrow,” Matfield said on Friday after the Springboks returned from a lengthy training session that went on for half-an-hour longer than expected.

“The guys there were outstanding the whole of last year so we know what they can do. It’s just one or two technical things that need to get sorted. I think there’s been an uproar because we’re so proud of our scrums and we’re certainly not happy with the way we scrummed last weekend. But I’m sure it will be fine next weekend.”

There is a tendency in rugby for teams to work incredibly hard on where their weaknesses have been exposed the previous week, to the detriment of what have been strengths before and sides are often surprised in another department, having fixed a problem area.

Fortunately the Springboks know that their lineout was no great shakes last weekend either, and the return of the masterful Matfield has seen them also put in a lot of work in that department.

“Our set-piece must work, that’s the bottom line, we have to secure our own ball and put pressure on their’s. We’ll have to wait and see who the coach picks and whether we’ll have five jumpers or four, but we also have to wait and see who Australia pick.

“James Horwill is a very experienced lock but he hasn’t been playing, while Rob Simmons has been there for a while. We also have to see which loose forwards they choose … ” Matfield said.

If there was a university of rugby, Matfield would have several Masters degrees and the veteran lock pointed out that the Springboks must not be distracted by all the rave reviews the All Blacks are receiving for upping the tempo of their game another notch in thrashing Australia 51-20 at Eden Park.

“First of all we have to focus on Australia and people musn’t forget that the same team that played in Auckland drew with the Mighty All Blacks two weeks ago on home soil. Plus the Waratahs won SuperRugby, so they’ll still be pretty confident and very competitive.

“We have to play to our strengths and control the pace of the game. We must make it quicker when we want it faster but also be able to slow it down and make it more of a set-piece battle. Rugby is all about who controls the pace of the game,” Matfield said.

Matfield’s long-time Bulls team-mate Morne Steyn has a crucial role in this regard and is expected to be back in the number 10 jersey for the match against the Wallabies in Perth.

“I don’t think the number 10 jersey is necessarily mine, every day I have to work hard and I can’t relax with the young guys coming through, but as the link between the backs and forwards, it’s mostly up to the scrumhalf and me to control the pace of the game. We want to set the pace,” Steyn said.

The Stade Francais player said he felt Handre Pollard had had two solid outings in the flyhalf position.

“It’s not always nice being on the bench, but I thought Handre did great. I do sit down and talk to him about small things, obviously I’m not coaching him but a young guy like that can always learn little things and wherever I can help, I do,” Steyn said.

Even a player of Steyn’s experience – the 30-year-old earned his 58th cap against Argentina – found it a daunting experience to twice be thrown into the deep end off the bench and steer the Springboks to victory against the rampant Pumas and he admitted he was looking forward to the pack getting into gear.

“I think the forwards will scrum better and go forward next weekend,” Steyn said while casting a knowing smile in Matfield’s direction. “In Salta we needed more momentum and we needed to get back on the front foot, which makes it much easier for the backline. I hope it will be much better in Australia, but we saw last year what we can do overseas and we have the confidence to do well over there.”

Lest we forget, the last time the Springboks were in Australia, they pounded the Wallabies 38-12 in Brisbane and that was with a weaker backline and no Matfield.

SA scrum dominance due to De Villiers’ hard work 0

Posted on June 10, 2012 by Ken

Springbok loosehead prop Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira on Sunday attributed South Africa’s dominant scrummaging display against England to systematic work during the week with new scrum coach and former France star Pieter de Villiers.

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.

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