Frans Malherbe may take a few blows on social media because of his build, but no one lands a blow to him at scrum time. The Springboks tighthead again proved he is scrumming gold as the Boks battered Georgia into submission 40-9 at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, writes Mark Keohane.
Malherbe was immense when introduced for Trevor Nyakane, firstly as a concussion substitute and then in the second half as a premediated change. Malherbe bossed the scrum engagement, destroyed his opposite and when the Bok scrum field position required him to hold his opponent, rather than scrum him from Pretoria to Midrand, Malherbe was equally comfortable.
He was my Springboks player of the night in a win against a Georgian team that resembled a good old fashioned ally brawl. The visitors were tough, dogged and determined, but they infringed with such regularity had they been a Tier One team, they’d had finished the match as a Sevens team.
I put it out to the guys who dabble in the world of the dark arts about the depth of the Springboks tighteads and former Springbok BJ Botha singled out Nyakane and Vincent Koch as the best scrumming tightheads, but also said any performance was influenced by who was playing hooker, and Botha felt that Bongi Mbonambi was technically the best scrumming hooker.
Tank Lanning, a former WP frontrower and the scrum doctor behind the UCT Tigers Varsity Cup successes, applauded Malherbe’s performance, calling him a beast.
Keo I think Trevor & Vincent our best scrummaging T-H’s, but the key is who is at hooker, Bongi by far our best technical scrummaging hooker😊
— BJ Botha (@BJBotha) July 2, 2021
The Boks, after 20 months of inactivity, were worse than anyone could have imagined, from the moment players chewed gum during the singing of the anthem, to the missed first kick-off receive and the first penalty conceded a minute into the Test at the first scrum.
But that was as bad as it got for the world champions, who gradually shook off the 20 month hangover of beating England 32-12 in the World Cup final in 2019.
The Boks in those first 30 minutes were collectively and predictably pedestrian, ill-disciplined and poor. It was always going to be the case, but as they started to settle into taking a few tackles and handing out a few of them, the green machine started to shift from neutral to first and by the 80th minute they were cruising without getting to third gear.
It would only ever require a second gear effort to beat Georgia, whose brilliance is in their brutality in the collisions and bravery at set piece. The Georgian Lyon-based 18 year-old fullback Davit Niniashvili is a rugby talent, while the rest of his teammates are the kind of blokes you want walking into a pub with you. Georgia won’t trouble a good Test team but I’d back them to destroy any Test team in a pub showdown, and I am not talking about a beer down down.
This was the perfect first-up hit-out for the Boks because it gave the forwards a great workout and the backs were never troubled defensively.
Individually, Malherbe and loose-head prop replacement Steven Kitshoff were powerful and in a different class, Siya Kolisi got through 80 minutes, Pieter-Steph du Toit grew an arm and a leg with every quarter and Handre Pollard got through 63 minutes. New cap Aphelele Fassi scored with his first touch in Test rugby and looked at ease with the requirements, and Herschel Jantjies has that talisman touch. He is always in the right place at the right time.
Replacement Jasper Wiese was strong in the carry at No 8 and more effective than Kwagga Smith in a Test that was always going to be more a rumble than a race for space.
The Boks will pick a stronger starting XV for the second Test next Friday evening and will win more comfortably, but any victory against Georgia is not in the result but in the performance of individuals, and in Pretoria there were enough of those individual wins to call the night a victory for the Springboks.