WHEN Tendai Mtawarira, Francois Louw and Schalk Brits all retired after winning the 2019 World Cup, there were many who thought the Springboks would inevitably be weakened by their loss. And when Faf de Klerk, Cheslin Kolbe and Pieter-Steph du Toit were all absentees when the South African squad for this year's Autumn Nations Series was named, there were many more who reasoned that the tourists would be weakened again.

Many, but not all. Mtawarira himself, for one, is sure that the team for which he played in 117 Tests has such strength in depth that the loss of a few key men has not inflicted enduring damage. And, midway between that 2019 triumph and the next World Cup in 2023, the former prop forward is convinced that his old side is on course to retain the Webb Ellis Cup in France.

The man nicknamed Beast was back home in Durban when The Herald spoke to him via Zoom yesterday, and will watch this afternoon’s Scotland v South Africa match on TV. But he will be at Twickenham next week as part of Amazon Prime Video’s commentary team for the Autumn Nations Series, - and, whether watching remotely or in person, is always eager to see the latest episode in the story of the Springboks side.

“I think this is a team that is going from strength to strength,” said Mtawarira, who won four out of his five Tests against Scotland. “The guys that retired in 2019 - all the gaps that we left have been filled up. So there’s no chance of us making a comeback!

“I must say that the talent that has come through is impressive. Look at a guy like Ox Nche - he’s taken over from me and has been exceptional, he’s playing some great rugby. He’s scrummaging really well. He’s not played in a lot of Tests yet, but he’s taken it all in his stride. He understands the responsibility of wearing the No 1 jersey. 

“And when it comes to missing the likes of Cheslin just now, I don’t think the Springboks are weakened at all. That’s a big concern for the opposition, because there are a lot of guys who are hungry to come in and do the job just as well as a player like Cheslin. There’s a lot of depth in South African rugby and that’s a huge positive going into 2023. 

“Pieter-Steph is the guy I thought we were going to miss the most, because he brings an incredible work rate - he’s relentless for 80 minutes. But a guy like Kwagga Smith has taken over, and he played probably one of his best matches last week against Wales.”

Now the chief executive of a security business, Mtawarira also runs the Beast Foundation, “which is all about empowering the youth and helping to create future leaders”. But he still loves watching rugby - he sits on the board of the Sharks, his old Super Rugby team - and thinks that in two years’ time he will see a new Springboks team emulate the one he served so well by defending their World Cup title.

“I believe so,” he added. “I don’t want to jinx it, but I believe so. I think we’ve got a good opportunity to win back-to-back World Cups. New Zealand did it in 2011 and 2015 and I think we could possibly repeat that. We’ve got everything in our favour - just hopefully we don’t incur any major injuries to key players. I think if this squad stays intact there’s no reason why we can’t win again.

“We’ve probably got the two best front rows in the world - in the same team. That’s a great problem to have. For the opposition it’s a major headache and it’s hard to combat. 

“The scrum is something that we focus on in a big way. And we work hard - we don’t just talk about it. And the standards in training are just insane. So that’s why a lot of teams can’t live with us.”

He expects Scotland to put up a good fight this afternoon, not least because he believes that, in Pieter de Villiers, the home team have “a great scrummaging coach”. But he thinks that the Springboks’ depth of talent, above all up front, will see them home with something to spare.

“I believe the Springboks will get ascendancy in the set piece - that is where the game is going to be won and lost. I’ve never been great at score predictions. But the Boks will definitely win, and I think they’ll win by 15 points or more.”

Tendai Mtawarira was speaking on behalf of Amazon Prime Video for its coverage of the Autumn Nations Series. To watch the Autumn Nations Series on Amazon Prime Video costs £7.99 a month, while for new members there is a free 30-day trial.