Lions out to put a lid on our ‘Beeeeeast’

2009-06-23 00:00

THE British Lions will spend the week working on ways to tame the Beast after taking a hammering in the scrums in the first Test in Durban.

The Lions were confident they would hold sway in the scrums where they expected John Smit, a specialist hooker, to battle in his new position on the tighthead. Instead it was their own tighthead, Phil Vickery, their most experienced prop, who was exposed.

Beast Mtawarira, a retreaded number eight who is still learning his trade in the dark world of the front-row, played a dominant role in the Springboks winning the Test 26-21.

The 118 kg Beast, just 23 and with 10 Test caps, was up against Vickery, 10 years his senior, one of the hard men of British rugby and a World Cup-winning tighthead who has been playing international rugby since 1998.

The low roar of “Beeeeeast” resounds around the stands of King’s Park whenever the Sharks prop is involved in the action, and on Saturday it followed almost every scrum in the first half as Mtawarira buckled Vickery in the front row, gaining his side a decisive edge and a string of penalties.

Lions scrum coach Graham Rowntree said he had no complaints about the penalty count against Vickery.

“In those eight scrums in the first half, three times we were penalised and that gave them nine points. The referee rewarded the dominant scrum, as we’d asked him to, and I’ve got no real issue with any of the decisions,” Rowntree said.

“What we failed to do was keep a lid on the Beast at engagement time and he was able to get under us. They were going forward, their movement was upwards and legitimate I feel.

“The Beast was pretty impressive. There was one scrum after nine minutes when we got lifted off the floor and if I was their scrum coach I would have retired and gone to Panama.”

Vickery battled through the first half, but it was only once he was replaced by Adam Jones early in the second that the Lions scrum settled.

Mtawarira said that he respects Vickery as a “great scrummager”.

“He’s been around. I just worked hard on certain things and did them right,” the Zimbabwean-born prop said.

Rowntree was encouraged by the scrum’s improvement after the changes and said there would definitely be new faces for the second Test in Pretoria.

“It’s a collective thing,” said Rowntree. “I have to look at what went wrong. By his own admission Phil [Vickery] struggled, but the rest of the pack have got to help him.”

The Lions might look to Simon Shaw to add some bulk to the second row in place of Welshman Alun Wyn Jones and he would beef up the defence against the maul, which was poor on Saturday as the Springboks trundled their pack 30 metres on their way to scoring their second try.

“When the lads look at that again they’ll be a bit embarrassed. You just can’t let that happen in Test rugby,” Rowntree said.

While Rowntree accepted the referee’s decisions, Ian McGeechan, the Lions head coach, was clearly miffed about the penalties and said the tapes would be reviewed before meeting with the referees this week.

Bok captain John Smit paid tribute to the Beast’s efforts against “a very seasoned international”.

“I think we have the secret. He brought his fiancée down [from Zimbabwe] for a short stay and we saw what that did for him.

“We are going to get her to stay a couple of weeks longer,” Smit added with a smile.

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