lions learn to fear beast

THERE is a name in the Springbok line-up that was surely the first one coach Peter de Villiers wrote down on his own team sheet.

THERE is a name in the Springbok line-up that was surely the first one coach Peter de Villiers wrote down on his own team sheet.

Tendai "Beast" Mtawarira wears the number 1 of his position on his back, but has earned both fan popularity and now international accolades after a man-of-the-match performance against the British and Irish Lions in Durban on Saturday.

Mtawarira [23] was the driving force in the Springbok pack's demolition of their Lions equivalents. Mtawarira won penalty after penalty by systematically destroying Lions tighthead Phil Vickery in the scrum.

Vickery, who captained England in the World Cup final against the Boks, is a highly respected front rower, but Mtawarira's treatment of him clearly showed that Vickery's career at Test level is coming to an end.

After spending the week leading up to the match making lofty claims of how the tough-as-nails Lions front row would batter the rusty Springboks, the British media and Lions camp were forced to eat their words by Mtawarira, who is now part of a very settled and dangerous front row with powerhouse hooker Bismarck du Plessis and captain John Smit.

What is all the more impressive is that Mtawarira is both very young for an international level prop, and only began playing in his position around two-and-a-half years ago.

He made his Test debut against Wales a year ago, and will earn his 12th cap on Saturday when he takes the field at Loftus Versveld, the same arena where he earned his first cap.

Indeed, this week another iconic loosehead - who also has a "beastly" nickname, Jacobus Petrus "Os" du Randt - heaped praise on his young counterpart.

Du Randt, who anchored the Springbok scrum in both the 1995 and 2007 World Cup finals, said of Mtawarira that "he definitely has everything it takes to become one of the great players in Bok history".

Referring to Mtawarira's young age, Du Randt said: "I don't think we have yet seen the best of the Beast. He will only mature in a year's time as a front-ranker after he has learnt enough about his opponents, but he has impressed me since last year."

The future of rugby seems increasingly to belong to players who specialise in one position, but incorporate the strengths of other positions into their play.

Mtawarira demonstrated this ability on Saturday, when he put in a complete performance by not only scrummaging well but also functioning around the park like an extra loose forward, forcing turnovers at the breakdown and knocking back attackers with huge tackles.

It seems that shouts of "Beeaasst" will be echoing around stadiums for a while to come.