Yokohama — If this was the end, as The Beast (pictured) hinted it would be, then it was a perfect sign-off. Ten years after making his name by dismantling the Lions’ scrum, he repeated the feat against England to reach a glorious career peak.
His real name is Tendai Mtawarira, but South Africa’s iconic prop is known by the nickname which was entirely appropriate on Saturday. England had no answer to his formidable power.
Poor Dan Cole was subjected to a brutal ordeal, just as Phil Vickery had been in Durban in 2009. Back then, the Lions were destroyed in the set-piece battle, setting the tone for a series defeat. This time, England’s demise came about in much the same way. The Springboks’ third World Cup triumph was built in the scrum.
For Eddie Jones’ team, The Beast was tormentor-in-chief. At the age of 34, the loosehead rose to this grand occasion. It was his finest hour. When he was asked if it was the end of his Test career, he said: “I’ll probably be thinking about my future in the next few days. I’ll probably make an announcement then.”What a way to go, as the hero of this upset victory — this final mismatch.
Mtawarira was asked how he would have responded if he had been told beforehand that South Africa would win five scrum penalties before half-time. His reply was: “I would have said, ‘That’s too good to be true’.”
But it was true. He made it true. When the victors emerged from their changing room to discuss what they had done, it was The Beast who was most in demand. He was only on the field for 44 minutes, but his contribution was decisive.
“Rugby is built around the set-piece and our scrum went well tonight,” he said. It was quite some under-statement. “It’s something we’ve put a lot of focus on in the last couple of months and as a team we’ve made a lot of improvements.
“It was good to get a few good penalties up front and get the scoreboard ticking. The English have a great pack so they didn’t make it easy, but we managed to get the ascendancy we wanted.
“Our set-piece is a vital part of our game. It wins us penalties and it gives our whole team energy. Before the game, I was thinking that I wanted to scrum the best I’ve ever scrummed and give my team energy and inspire the guys around me.”
He did just that. The Beast emulated what he did in 2009. His work had the hallmarks of what Andrew Sheridan did to the Wallabies in Marseille in the 2007 quarter-final.
It is rare for scrums at Test level to produce such comprehensive outcomes. This was in that rare category. There were clues before kick-off that the Boks’ No 1 meant business.
When the South African anthem was played, the players in green belted it out with gusto. The cameras captured Mtawarira as he finished singing, eyes bulging and a look of focused intensity on his face. He was ready to wreak havoc, which is just what he did.
This was a glorious peak at the end of what has been a glittering career. He has now played 117 Tests and none will have given him more pleasure. He began his Test career just after the Boks won the 2007 World Cup, so all the years of hard graft since have been a quest to emulate that epic feat.
When the medals were handed out, none of the champions deserved one more.“It is amazing to be world champions,” he said.“’For my whole career, I’ve been working towards this. I’ve had a few tough lessons and great accomplishments, but every lesson I’ve had led to tonight and ultimately, I’m very proud of myself.”
On Saturday in Yokohama, The Beast was handing out the lessons and securing his greatest accomplishment. In the coming days, he is likely to announce his Test retirement. If he does, it will mean he has finished on the ultimate high.