TBritish and Irish Lions mainstay Tadhg Furlong has “weaknesses that can be exploited” by South African Steven Kitshoff in second test on Saturday, according to Tendai Mtawarira, a man who knows a lot about the intense pressure of the scrum in a Lions -Test Springboks with a series on the line.
The world champion known as “the beast” made a name for himself destroying England’s Phil Vickery in the Lions’ first test of 2009. But he had a more difficult afternoon against the country’s Adam Jones Wales in the second test, as the Lions came back in force.
“I think it was probably the most physical game I’ve ever played,” Mtawarira said, via video from KwaZulu-Natal. “You know there was just corps … Five guys were sent to the hospital on the Lions side. It was brutal. “
Jones was one of those broken Lions, his shoulder broken. With the Lions scrum neutralized, the Springboks won the match and the series. Fast forward 12 years and a fierce forward effort won the first test for the Lions. Now South Africa must win, to avoid a third loss in the Lions series.
Coach Jacques Nienaber chose two new accessories and a bigger No.8.
“I think these are very good changes,” says Mtawarira. “Steven Kitshoff, donning this number 1 jersey, he’s playing his 50th selection. It’s going to be a lot to run in front of the team. The guys are going to be super emotional and ready to fly. But that won’t bring them home. They must be precise and take the risks they have.
The Lions also traded a mainstay, England’s Mako Vunipola head-to-head for Scotsman Rory Sutherland. But Mtawarira looks to the other side of the fray, where he believes the now injured Ox Nché had the advantage over Furlong last week.
For Mtawarira, the Leinster and Irish man he leaned against in the loss to Dublin in 2017 is “one of the most gifted tight heads in the world.” It does its job very well in melee and it moves. But I think it has a few weaknesses that can be exploited.
“I thought Ox in that first half actually had him in a few scrums. You could see that the pressure was starting to build and that with a few more scrums there probably would have been some penalties. But Ox was replaced at the break.
When asked to identify Furlong’s weaknesses, Mtawarira said, “He has good form when he fights on his own terms, but if you disrupt his process you can put him on the back foot and put him on the back foot. ‘is something that Ox did very well, especially on engagement.
“You have to make sure you get the ascendant from there and don’t give it a thumbs up, and that’s what Ox did and then [Furlong] got into a bit of an awkward position and broke his relationship probably twice. This [should be] an automatic penalty, because you’re under pressure and that’s why you’re sort of trying to swing your arm around to try and keep the loose head from coming forward.
“So yeah, I think Furlong can be exposed. But we’re going to have to be very specific to do it.
Mtawarira also sees Springbok’s weakness in the mauls, from which the Lions took a try and the penalty that sealed the victory, as a weakness to be corrected.
“Historically, we don’t like to concede a maul essay,” he says. “It should never happen, especially in South Africa. For them, doing this on us was a major turning point. “
The huge Eben Etzebeth lock, he said, must help subdue Maro Itoje.
“Itoje is probably one of the best players of this generation, super talented, a game changer. He can carry, he’s good in the lineup, he can steal possession. He’s a great leader. So yeah, I think we should try to contain it. It is a great task. He gets in [scrum-half] Faf [de Klerk]’s face and tries to frustrate him.
“It plays a key role in winning. These frustrations will lead to mistakes. So kudos to him and I hope we don’t allow it this time, in the second test.
In short, Mtawarira sees a recipe for 2009 in redux, if not backwards: the Lions trying to kill the series, the Springboks fighting for life, a fierce ordeal even without fans to turn Cape Town Stadium into the Colosseum.
Lately, the Boks have gotten into the habit of throwing a ‘bomb squad’ of big attackers into the fray every second half, to blast tired opponents. Many of those players will kick off on Saturday.
“We have to make an explosive start,” laughs Mtawarira. “I think the ferocity of the game will be as good as when a crowd is in the stadium. “