This column with former France hooker Benjamin Kayser first appeared in Rugby World in June
THE SPRINGBOKS are the most confrontational rugby team in the world. Rugby is a physical battle but South Africa’s commitment in every collision is second to none and they take the set-piece very seriously. The scrum battle with the British & Irish Lions will be apocalyptic!
So looking at what I like about the Lions selection, there’s Tadhg Furlong’s capacity to front up to the raw power of Steven Kitshoff. This Irish giant is able to stay within the rules and to anchor the scrum thanks to overwhelming leg strength and good technique.
There’s the experience and reliability of Ken Owens and Jamie George. A hooker’s number one responsibility is to deliver on the essentials: scrum, lineout and defence. Leading by being strong, reliable and finding solutions under a storm, these two are world class at it.
The Lions have the capacity to bring on physical, dynamic players like Luke Cowan-Dickie, Rory Sutherland or Wyn Jones. In particular the Exeter No 2, who isn’t as recognised internationally yet as the lethal weapon he can be.
Do I have any concerns? On his day and on top form, Mako Vunipola is the best loosehead prop in the world – I was on the receiving end of many of his top performances with Saracens. Yet I haven’t seen these performances since the 2019 World Cup and don’t see when he will be able to regain that form.
Zander Fagerson had a fantastic Six Nations, really showing a different dimension. But this is a beast of a challenge and tighthead is a ruthless position with no margin for error. For this reason, I would like to have seen Kyle Sinckler in as an experienced and dynamic replacement tighthead.
It’s also worth mentioning the relatively similar style of locks picked: Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones, Iain Henderson and Courtney Lawes. Apart from Jonny Hill, all of these talented players don’t have the scrummaging power that, say, Eben Etzebeth can offer. The second row is the engine of the scrum and demands collective, extraordinary effort.
There is no need to look far for the reason for Springboks dominance. It’s a bit reductive on my part but you could say their success in Japan was based on the scrum, lineout mauls and some rapid finishers. However, the ‘Beast’, Tendai Mtawarira, hasn’t been replaced (and you could argue he never will). Although Frans Malherbe is quality, his power has a lot to do with the two sets of monster second-rowers behind him. Lood de Jager could be missing and some others are fighting to be fit.
It will be interesting to see what the future of Boks scrummaging front-rowers looks like. Will a new head coach mean a change in priorities? Will we see some youngsters given a chance to play? Social media recently discovered the extraordinary pace and power of young Sharks prop Ntuthuko Mchunu, so look out!
Also, never forget that scrummaging is a massive strategic battle and Lions forwards coach Robin McBryde is a master at using the power available. I’m looking forward to seeing what tricks the Leinster assistant coach will have up his sleeves – after all, head coach Warren Gatland said one of McBryde’s strongest suits was his ingenuity.
Simply as a rugby fan, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that at least some South Africans will be allowed in the stands to cheer the home team on in the Test matches. This extra heart could be just what the Springboks scrum needs, particularly since they haven’t played together since the 2019 final.
I believe scrummaging is the heartbeat of a forward pack, of the team even. Given the Springboks say they love to take opponents to the “pain arena”, I think they agree. I have also heard Anglo-Saxons use the phrase “No scrum, no win”. Time to walk the walk!
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