Clash of the bisons

2012-08-04 00:00

CAPE TOWN — They are as close as it gets to cult figures of the front row … and now the Chiefs’ shiny-domed loosehead prop, Sona Taumalolo, comes up against another global favourite in a No. 1 jersey, Tendai Mtawarira of the Sharks, in today’s Super Rugby final (9.35 am SA time) in Hamilton.

Of course, they will not actually go head to head at scrum-time — unless through makeshift necessity during the contest — but it is in close-quarters mauling and driving play that this pair may well be most closely monitored for bragging rights at Waikato Stadium.

Taumalolo and Mtawarira certainly qualify as two of the most recognisable and crowd-pleasing looseheads, just about anywhere on the rugby-playing planet.

The former (also known as “Arizona”, which somehow adds to his broad appeal geographically) is a charismatic Tonga international, shortly bidding farewell to the Chiefs and heading to France on a three-year deal with Perpignan, so he will naturally be eyeing an appropriate send-off tomorrow.

Taumalolo’s leg drive near the opposition try-line has become the stuff of legend this season, as he has registered nine tries in Super Rugby — including one in the minor upset semi-final victory over the Crusaders last week, even if outspoken former All Black prop Richard Loe later described it as “looking a bit fishy” after repeated replays and approval by TMO verdict.

Whatever the legitimacy of his own five-point contribution to the 20-17 score-line, Taumalolo was fired up in the semi, where he was a key element in the Chiefs’ pretty obvious plan to get in the ’Saders faces and rattle them by fair means or occasionally borderline foul.

There was little wrong with the 113 kg, 1,85 metre front-ranker’s scrummaging either, as Richie McCaw’s side were unable to gain quite the sort of foothold in the set-piece they doubtless anticipated.

His No. 1 counterpart tomorrow, meanwhile, the ever-popular “Beast”, stamped his own mark on the other semi-final at Newlands.

Home team Stormers were first to make a big early statement in the bruising all-South African affair when a marauding Eben Etzebeth sent Bismarck du Plessis, not one normally seen in this pose, sprawling groggily to the turf.

The Sharks needed a response and it came with comforting rapidity for them … Springbok Mtawarira produced one of his revered, destructive heaves on Stormers tighthead Brok Harris, bending him backwards at a scrum amid much whooping from the Sharks eight and an unusually animated display of growling satisfaction from the loosehead himself.

Mtawarira is a senior, “go to” man, that’s for sure, when Keegan Daniel’s team are looking for a moment or two of inspiration, and apart from his exceptional prowess in the scrums when the mood grabs him, he is just like Taumalolo in relishing every chance to place the ball under an arm and bulldoze his way ahead, amid inevitable chants of “Beeeeast” from the stands.

Of course, Mtawarira (a tad bulkier than Taumalolo at 116 kg, but a slightly shorter 1,82 m) is as likely as any Sharks colleague in the pack, in particular, to be vulnerable to fatigue as the final runs its course, given the extraordinary travel burden on the Sharks preceding this showpiece.

But one thing in his favour is that for game-time this year he remains lighter than most team-mates, given that he broke a bone in an ankle in pre-season and missed many early weeks of the Super Rugby ordinary season.

Included in that layoff was the April meeting between these very sides at Kings Park, where Ryan Kankowski — more recently a revelation — was another absentee and the Sharks were beaten 18-12.

The workmanlike young Dale Chadwick deputised at No. 1 that day, when Taumalolo was at his equivalent post for the Chiefs.

But now, in the fitting environment of the 2012 final, we belatedly get to see Beast vs Sona in a veritable battle of ball-carrying bison.

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