Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira’s quietly powerful contributions have mirrored the team’s ascendant Test performances this season, says Springbok scrum coach Matt Proudfoot.
Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash between Australia and SA at the nib Stadium in Perth will be Mtawarira’s 93rd Test. He is already the most-capped Springbok prop‚ but that is not the enduring quality that has impressed Proudfoot.
The coach said Mtawarira has rolled back the clock to the 2009 British and Irish Lions series, when he destroyed celebrated England tight-head prop Phil Vickery.
"He’s the guy with 92 Test caps and you have to respect that and it’s a pleasure to work with the most-capped South African prop‚" Proudfoot said.
"He’s eager to learn and he’s getting back to carrying the ball more and passing the ball more.
"His defence has also been exceptional. When a guy gets that‚ they become confident and that’s probably what’s evident in the squad at the moment.
"Coach Allister Coetzee did say at the start of the year that we wanted improvement and everybody has gone on their shoulder and improved everything. Mtawarira’s rewarded us and that’s created the appetite in the team, which is evident in everything.
"Beast wants to play for another couple of years and he has to be ambitious to do that. That’s been the growth in him.
"Just think back to what he did to the British and Irish Lions in 2009 and that’s Beast. It’s good to see he’s got that appetite at scrum-time again and he’s passionate about scrumming."
Of the 122 Test matches Wallaby hooker Stephen Moore has taken part in‚ 20 have been against SA. Moore may only get his 21st crack at the Springboks later in September in Bloemfontein as paternal duties keep him off the field.
Michael Cheika’s embattled Wallabies may have struggled in the scrums, but they have been a different proposition in the lineouts.
Proudfoot has taken note of Moore’s absence, but felt that the Australian scrum should not be underestimated because of the pounding it took in the two Bledisloe Cup matches Australia lost to New Zealand.
Tatafu Polota-Nau may have started only 27 of his 73 Tests, but in Proudfoot’s estimation, the Waratahs hooker is a quality player who will bring something different to the Wallaby plate.
"Polota-Nau brings a lot to the Australian scrum‚" Proudfoot said. "He’s a lot more aggressive on their ball and what they lose in Moore is the leadership aspect. What they lose in the one‚ they gain in the other.
"But they have improved from the All Blacks Test.
"We’ve just stuck to a plan that’s worked for us and we’ll do the same for this Test.
"The All Blacks scrum is a powerful one and if you look at them this year from last year‚ they have improved in the technical aspects.
"Like us‚ they have improved," he said.
"The Australians will come with a few things like they did last year, like coming in with a different angle.
"They will have done their homework and they’ll try to exploit us a bit."