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A country for knowing old men...

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Mar 13, 2019, 11:47

"Give me a strong tighthead prop and I’ll build you a strong rugby team". That is a quote mostly attributed to the late Springbok coach Kitch Christie, but it really could have been uttered by anyone older than 75 who has ever coached a team to any great success in the game of rugby union.

There is another old-school saying that claims that "The two most important positions in a rugby team is the tighthead prop and the reserve tighthead prop!"

Those wrinkly codgers must have loved this last round of Super Rugby. For once they could take the full two minutes needed to raise a gnarled finger and creak at us: "I told you!"

We should have listened the first time round. As we saw for ourselves this weekend, old fogeys aren't always wrong.

On Saturday we saw in both local games that a winning effort starts with the big men upfront, and that the modern notion of scrums being little more than just quick restarts to the game is way off the mark.

In Johannesburg on Saturday we saw the Lions scrum literally bulldoze their Jaguares counterparts for almost the entire match. It changed the entire shape of the match.

What ended up being a 13-point try-fest could easily have gone the other way if the Argentinians were able to score in the opening moments of the match after they were awarded a five-metre scrum after some sloppy handling by Wandile Simelane. But instead of scoring they got muscled off the ball, conceding a penalty that allowed the home side to escape.

Versions of this happened throughout the first half, and if the Jaguares had only parity upfront they could have had a handy lead, forcing the Lions to play catch-up rugby (something the'’ve been struggling to do lately).

The Joburg match showed that not only can a scrum serve as the platform to launch an attack from, but it can just as easily stop an opposition attack at source.

This is the perfect opportunity to bemoan the fall from grace of the Argentinian frontrow. Los Pumas were always revered for their scrumming abilities, with their Bajada variant being the stuff of legend. All that know-how seems to have been lost ever since they joined Super Rugby, and the tournament is much poorer for it.

The opposite is true in Pretoria, where the Bulls scrum has undergone a remarkable turnaround in the off-season, changing an aspect of their game that caused them to be perennial strugglers into what is now one of their main weapons.

On Saturday Liza Gcoboka and Trevor Nyakane made a huge statement about the Bulls' intent this year when they grabbed the all-Springbok Sharks frontrow of Beast Mtwarira, Akker van der Merwe and Coenie Oosthuizen by the short and curlies and dragged them all over the Loftus pitch.

That is a feat very few scrums have been capable of, and one that couldn't have gone unnoticed by the Springbok selectors in this all-important World Cup year.

Well, what has changed for them in the off-season, you may ask. The short answer is that they started taking it seriously. They appointed former Stormers and Toulouse strongman Daan Human to consult with them for a couple of sessions a week. They also embraced the immense intellectual property brought across by overseas veterans Schalk Brits and Duane Vermeulen and turned all of those outside influences into gold.

Previously the Pretoria outfit made use of former Bulls players like Wessel Roux and Gary Botha to take care of that aspect of the game, and as mentioned earlier, not with much success.

Human, despite having to share his available time between the Bulls and the Cheetahs, seems to be so effective up north because he does not come from that Loftus echo-chamber. His ideas are foreign and invigorating, and the players are responding remarkably.

It begs the question: if a change in coaching personnel could have such a drastic impact, why did it take the Bulls so long to pull the trigger, and how many massively talented youngsters have left Loftus without ever getting the guidance necessary to make it to the top? I shudder to think.

The Lions' scrum successes also have a lot to do with coaching, but in their case it has been that way for a long time now.

With the legendary Balie Swart barking orders next to the scrum machine, they have been able to churn out a whole host of Springbok frontrowers without ever having to buy any big names. Under Balie's watch the Springboks gained strong scrummagers like Heinke van der Merwe, Brian Mujati, Pat Cilliers, JC Janse van Rensburg (uncapped), Julian Redelinghuys and Ruan Dreyer - seamlessly replacing one slab of prime muscle with another year after year.

And despite some changes in personnel, the Lions frontrow factory seems to be running as smooth as ever. On Saturday we saw one of the most dominant scrum performances in the whole of Super Rugby's 23-year history, and in Dylan Smith and the walking fridge Carlu Sadie they seem to have found two jewels once again.

Balie Swart no longer coaches at Emirates Airlines Park, but in former pupil Julian Redelinghuys he has found a very capable replacement. He has also not thrown him in at the deep end. Redelinghuys has nothing but praise for everything "Oom Balie the legend" has taught him and he regards his new position as "a complete blessing".

It is South African rugby that is blessed with that smooth handover.

There is one thing that Balie Swart, Julian Redelinghuys, Daan Human and, at Bok level, Pieter de Villiers and Matt Proudfoot has in common. They are all former International props, now ploughing back into the game. All our top teams should have one.

Together these guys have given the country a whole lot of depth in a position where most of our International opponents are vulnerable. These colossuses will have had a big role to play if the Boks somehow manage to push their way to World Cup victory.

Give me a strong tighthead and I'll build you a strong team. True as ever, especially if that tighthead is retired and now spends his time drilling youngsters.

Mar 13, 2019, 11:57

A strong tighthead. Oosthuizen is strong, but pathetic as a scrummager. Not the presence he once was in general play either. 

It was quite something seeing the Jaguares being crumpled like toilet paper. At one point, with a buckled scrum, the commentator remarked that they were stable. Compared to the prior scrums, that says a lot. I'm not a fan of the 14 man lineouts though! :D

Good post.

Mar 13, 2019, 12:25


Tragic about the downturn in Argentine scrumming.   I can remember how in 2013 Jannie and Steenkamp was going backwards at jet plane speed against the Argentine scrummers

As to the issue of the Sharks scrums - Oosthuizen has not been that good over the past few years and his scrumming remains a discussion point.   Beast has been in decline already last year and he is not the scrummager he used to be.   he was in fact replaced by Kitshodd as starting loose-head in the RC tests - a sure sign of decline, . ,     

Mar 13, 2019, 12:33

The starting props in 2013 were Beast and Jannie. That was the second test; The first was a blowout Bok win. In that second test, the Boks won all 9 of their scrums, Los Pumas only 6 of their 9. Gurthro was penalised once at a breakdown. Los Puma's front row were penalised 6 times, the tighthead 4 times.Clearly the Boks had the edge. They were quite clinical ball-in-hand though, and edged the Boks for territory. 

The influence of SH rugby is quite rightly the culprit. In the SH, set pieces are moving closer and closer to rugby league: A mere way of getting the ball back in play. They are destroying the purity of the game. 

Mar 13, 2019, 12:48

I can remember Koosie giving the thumbs up to scrums having zero impact other than to feed the ball and get it going.

Mar 13, 2019, 12:55

Many scrums has gone backwards “at jet plane speed” against Argentina in the past. Why? The Bajada scrum. If it is done to perfection it is unstoppable. But it has to be done to perfection. 

The Jaguares do not have the services of guys like Ayerza and Herrera who were maters of the Bajada. Those two were one of the reasons for our struggles in those years. Read this piece from 2014, regarding the Bajada scrum. You may particularly enjoy like the part about Frans Malherbe doing something better than Jannie du Plessis. That is if you could get past the fact that the Arg scrum, as a whole, were at the top of their game. It was and not a matter of individual Boks being useless or of some Boks being either better or more useless than the next one. 

Mar 13, 2019, 23:44

Sadie has been one of the finds of the season thus far

Mar 14, 2019, 00:25

Sorry  Silly Billy - the year I referred to should have been 2014.   The first test Beast and Janne started and it was a disgrace, played in a rain storm in Pretoria - the core was 13-9.   The second test the score was 31-33 win by the Springboks.   The props were Steenkamp and Jannie.   The first stable scrum in that game was when Jannie was replaced by Malherbe.

Those were the jet speed retreat scrums games.

Mar 14, 2019, 00:33

The debut of De Allende. He was dropped after conspiring to lose that test. 

The Boks won 7/7 scrums that day; Los Pumas 3/4. Jannie received one penalty, the Puma loosehead one. 

The second test, the game Lood was exposed as a plodder, remember the try? I believe I saw you blame Bissie alone? The du Plessis brothers accounted for three front row penalties in an iffy scrum performance. The game was characterised by a lack of ball carriers. Smith, Lood, Coetzee in particular, they all failed to deliver, thus the Boks struggled to lay a foundation. 

Mar 14, 2019, 00:59

This article suggests our scrumming is in good hands, and certainly the Bools seem to have finally twigged that power forward play has to include scrumming. But our scrumming decisions have been a mess. Here are a few examples:

1 Moving Thomas the Tank to he showed on the YE tour, he can be a potent loosehead.....and as he showed again last Saturday, he is a patsy at tighthead.

2 Bringing Vincent Koch back in the mix.....he will not survive against a power pack. He will be penalized.

3 Giving up on Wilco.....the young man mountain was a rock in 2017, but overplayed in 2018 and his form dropped. And there was no programme to help him back. In NZ or Ireland this kid would be cherished.

4 Picking the likes of Dreyer and Redlinghuis on the basis of their Lions' form when it was clear they aren't international standard.

5 Bringing Coenie back into the mix again and again....he can't scrum

6 Having the bench learning role assigned to Quotas like Nyakane and at hooker Bongi.....when players Kitshoff and Acker should have been learning their trade.

7 Relying solely on Malherbe, who had a solid 2018....despite his prior scrumming woes and frequent injuries.

8 But most crucially ......failing to be really committed to a power scrum.....accepting neutral performances from Kitshoff and Malherbe as meeting expectations. With our huge pack a dominant scrum is a necessary payoff.

These big men are not going to excel in open field the Bools we are compelled to seek dominance at scrum time. And truth to tell, other than the Beast's dominance in the Lions series, our scrum has been at best a neutral.

I believe a Thomas (at loosehead) Marx, Wilco front row coached by a really astute scrumming coach could give us that dominant scrum. A Kitshoff, Marx, Malherbe scrum is at best a neutral.

Mar 14, 2019, 01:07

In all the years I have been following the Boks, I think the 97 Lions tour was a turning point. Since then, we've had maybe three good years of scrumming. Interesting selections. I really like Kitshoff's overall game, but Wilco, I can buy into that. 

Mar 14, 2019, 01:30

Kitshoff Marx Wilco is the perfect frontrow, with Pierre Schoeman, Aker and Thomas as our back ups

Mar 14, 2019, 01:31

Kitshoff is a fine prop and a decent player in the loose. His hands aren't great, but we don't have tight forwards who can handle the ball like Healey for example. Still Kitshoff is predictable and reliable.

But he's not a game changer.

Posters talk about the disappearance of Bargie scrum dominance.....that happened when Ayerza departed. He was a destructive loosehead. Scrumming dominance flows from loosehead dominance.

But another approach is to aim your most destructive scrummager at the replacement props. You could start Kitshoff and unleash Thomas at minute 50.

Either way, we have to get serious about dominating the scrums....Ireland does and they killed off France last week when they destroyed the Frog replacement tighthead who got a yellow. That could have been Vincent Koch.

Mar 14, 2019, 01:40

Disagree I think Kitshoff is the best loosehead in the game definitely better than Healey with ball in hand.

Healey does not stand out as much as Kitshoff does. Healey is solid.

The key to Irish scrum success is Furlong at tighthead

Mar 14, 2019, 01:44

Probably true but it was Healey and his replacement who destroyed the Frog scrum. Healey also made that attempted touch down through the scrum....none of our props would have the wit to do that. Britz might...but I still wouldn't pick him.

Mar 14, 2019, 02:03

Healey is good, certainly one of the best out there.

As for the French, they are a predictable mess

Mar 14, 2019, 08:34

Silly Billy

What test did the Springboks lost when De Allende was dropped?   Careful now.

Mar 14, 2019, 14:37

Another lie from Silly Billy?   Why no response. 

 How come De Allende was dropped for losing a test  when in both Argentina  he was  the best ball carrier in the backline  second only to Willie le Roux?

Hard for you not to be caught out for being what you really are - a habitual liar.  

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