How Boks improved their 'dark arts'
IN THE INTERNATIONAL SPOTLIGHT: Cynics believed the Springbok scrum would be no match for the French 'monsters'.
Two Test victories later - 37-14 in Pretoria and 37-15 in Durban - and suddenly the two front row 'has beens', along with a handful of rookies, are treated with a lot more respect.
Nobody would give 89-Test veteran Tendai Mtawarira the time of day and the next most experienced prop, Coenraad Oosthuizen with just 25 caps, were even lower down on the popularity pole.
However, Bok assistant coach Matt Proudfoot - speaking ahead of the third and final Test against Les Bleus at Ellis Park this coming Saturday - said people were "crazy" to write such quality players off.
He admitted it has been a "tough challenge" for the forwards, with things pretty much even, if you look at the penalties.
"France have one of the best scrums in the Six Nations and we worked from early on [at pre-June training camps] with our front rows," the formerScotland international said.
He said the front row forwards have all done really well.
"You could see the emotion of Beast [Tendai Mtawarira] after that [scrum] penalty," he said of last week's impressive scrumming performance in Durban.
"We are getting better and we are starting to meet the objectives we set out for ourselves.
"If you understand scrummaging at that [Test] level - there is going to be the dark arts played, we understand that.
"We like a scrummaging battle where it is pack-against-pack. I have been happy with the outcomes we have been getting.
"The guys are getting better technically - looking at particularly the engagement sequence, the body height and body shape of players.
"I am really, really pleased with that."
Proudfoot said his philosophy is that you can't be dominant if you are not accurate.
He also came out strongly in defence of the 31-year-old Mtawarira, who has been heavily criticised for his poor form in Super Rugby this year.
"To say a guy with 89 [Test] caps is past his best, in my opinion is crazy," the Bok assistant said, adding: "Coenie [Oosthuizen] is our next most experienced front row," he said of the 28-year-old, who has just 28 caps - having started in just four Tests.
"When you talk about the dark arts [of front row play], it come with experience.
"These guys have so much knowledge, just having been there. They pass that on to the rest of the guys.
"The big thing is to use players physique and muscle strength as best we can.
"These are the dark arts the guys have to master. You must remember, you bring a ton of weight together within 30 centimetres - there is a lot going on there.
"The contribution of Best has been incredible. He has been great.
"In the first week in Johannesburg Coenie [Oosthuizen] and Ruan Dreyer were talking to each other about binding positions. That stems from an appetite for the collective [Springbok team] to be successful.
"That is their work, buying into wanting to be a dominant pack. They are the experts and they are there [in the front line of the battle]."
The Bok assistant said the players are also 'up-skilling' each other constantly.
"They take pride in their performances."
He said that a 'lot of good' game out of the annus horribilis that was 2016.
"No lesson is a bad lesson. What we learnt from last year is priceless - we have taken that on board.
"This environment [the Bok team] is growing from there. We are thankful for the lessons we learnt last year."
By Jan de Koning, in Johannesburg