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MX News Update 2024

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There is only one Tom Lawton, but Dweba’s scrum influence is enormous

Joseph Dweba © Gallo Images

Tom Lawton. There’s a name from the distant past that will be familiar to anyone who supported Natal in the early 1990s, and ditto Australian supporters in the mid to late 1980s. It was Tony Watson’s try that gave Natal its first Currie Cup title in the historic final played to mark the association’s centenary, but without Lawton’s presence it is unlikely to have happened.

While it is usually the props who achieve scrum dominance for their team, there are some scrumming hookers who play an equally, if not even more, role. Guy Kebble, the late Lood Muller and Gerhard Harding were strong props, with Kebble building a particularly fearsome reputation for himself.

However, Guy would probably be the first to agree that Lawton’s arrival midway through the 1990 Currie Cup season took the Natal srum to the level that has probably led to ongoing nightmares for some of those all these years later who oppose it. Natal’s success was built around a hugely destructive scrum, and Lawton was a big part of that.

You get whores with different strengths. Some, like one of Lawton’s predecessors in the Natal No 2 jersey, Don Speirs, who played a decade earlier, could be just as at home on the wing as in the front row.

Then you get the dirty whores. In an interview with Chasing the Sun 2, Eben Etzebeth, a man who should know, described Bongi Mbonambi as the best scrumming hooker in the world. That could explain why for some “horses for courses” Springbok selections Mbonambi starts ahead of Malcolm Marx, who is of course a brilliant all-round contributor. If Mbonambi is the best scrumming hooker, then Marx is absolutely the best hooker in the world.

Although not making as clear an impact as Lawton did at South African domestic level 34 years ago, DHL Stormers hooker Joseph Dweba, who now appears to have been challenged back to finish third nationally behind Marx and Mbonambi, fits into the scrumming whore mold.

HLUNGWANI RECOGNIZES THE IMPORTANCE OF THE WHORES

When you’re not directly involved it’s often difficult to see what’s happening in the inner sanctum of the scrum, but Stormers forwards coach Rito Hlungwani confirmed my impression that the Cape team’s scrumming is usually boiling when Dweba is at the packing is.

“I agree 100 per cent, Joseph is one of the best scrumming hookers in the country and perhaps the world,” Hlungwani said during an online press conference before the Stormers departed for their two-match overseas tour.

“The level of detail he goes into with his teammates, the intensity he brings to training, his refusal to lose even one scrum in training is quite impressive. It’s something he really focuses on. He probably doesn’t get much credit for it, but he takes it very seriously. He’s really effective at it. Feel free to ask the props, they really enjoy scrumming with him.

“It is very important in a pack to have a hooker who takes the scrum seriously. If everything falls into place and you get a scrum penalty, this is an opportunity for points. So it’s huge for us to have a hooker like Joseph who can help us enforce those scrum penalties, giving us more opportunities to score points. He is one of the best scrum hookers around and we are really excited to have him in our pack.”

LEARNED THE BEST

Dweba, who first came to prominence on the South African stage while scrumming alongside current Bok strongman Ox Nche for the Cheetahs, confirmed he considers the scrum a big part of his job at the Stormers. He is quick to credit some of the players he has played with for that focus, including the aforementioned Mbonambi and Marx.

“I’ve been lucky to have the players around me that I’ve had,” Dweba said.

“There is Brok (Harris), who taught me a lot because he has a lot of experience, and of course Frans (Malherbe). There has also been input from Sti (Sithole), who came to us from the Lions, where he learned a lot working with Ruan ‘Dreyer. Neethling (Fouche) is someone who loves to fight for scrum dominance, and I’ve been lucky to be around guys like that.

“We have some good young props, and guys like Lizo (Gqoboko), but you learn a lot from the experienced guys and I’ve learned a lot working with guys like Bongi and Malcolm. They take scrums very seriously and decor in general very seriously and that has inspired something in me.”

With Dweba’s throw-in at the lineout out of bounds having improved since he’s been with the Stormers, he shouldn’t be criticized as much as there has been at times. He takes it all philosophically and seems determined to correct the impression that probably cost him a place at last year’s Rugby World Cup when the Boks surprised everyone by taking just two hookers.

“As a player you always strive to play for your country, I will always insist on that. It starts with your union. I’m working on my battle pace, work rate and just trying to keep busy in the park,” said Dweba.

The Stormers squad for Friday’s Vodacom United Rugby Championship match with the Dragons in Newport will be announced later on Thursday.