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

rugby09 May 2024 09:00
By:Gavin Rich
article image
Joseph Dweba © Gallo Images

Tom Lawton. There’s a name from the distant past that anyone who supported Natal in the early 1990s will be familiar with, and ditto Australian supporters from the mid to late 1980s. It was Tony Watson’s try that won Natal their first Currie Cup title in the historic final played in that union’s centenary year, but it probably wouldn’t have happened were it not for Lawton’s presence.

While it is usually the props that are credited with attaining scrum dominance for their team, there are some scrumming hookers that play as big if not an even more important part. Guy Kebble, the late Lood Muller and Gerhard Harding were strong props, with Kebble building himself a particularly fearsome reputation.

Guy would probably be the first though to agree that the arrival of Lawton halfway through that 1990 Currie Cup season was what lifted the Natal scrum to the level that has probably inspired ongoing nightmares all these years later for some of those who packed against it. The Natal success was built around a massively destructive scrum, and Lawton was a big part of that.

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

Then you get the scrumming hookers. Speaking in a Chasing the Sun 2 interview, Eben Etzebeth, a man who should know, described Bongi Mbonambi as the best scrumming hooker in the world. Which might explain why for some “horses for courses” Springbok selections Mbonambi starts ahead of Malcolm Marx, who of course is a brilliant allround contributor. If Mbonambi is the best “scrumming hooker”, Marx is the best hooker in the world full stop.

While not making an impression as obviously as Lawton did at South African domestic level 34 years ago, the DHL Stormers hooker Joseph Dweba, who now appears to be back challenging to be third in line at national level behind Marx and Mbonambi, fits into the scrumming hooker mould.


It is often difficult when you are not directly involved to make out what happens in the inner sanctum of the scrum, but Stormers forwards coach Rito Hlungwani confirmed my impression that it is when Dweba is packing down that the Cape team’s scrumming usually cooks.

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

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

“It’s really important in a pack, to have a hooker who takes the scrum seriously. When it all falls into place and you get a scrum penalty, it’s an opportunity for points. So it’s massive for us to have a hooker like Joseph who can help us push for those scrum penalties, giving us more opportunities to score points. He is one of the best scrumming hookers around and we really enjoy having him as part of our pack.”


Dweba, who first burst into prominence on the South African scene scrumming together with current Bok strongman Ox Nche at the Cheetahs, confirmed that he considers the scrum a big part of his ambit 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 have been very fortunate to have the players around me that I have had,” said Dweba.

“There is Brok (Harris), who has 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 learnt a lot working together with Ruan `Dreyer. Neethling (Fouche) is one who loves to fight for scrum dominance, and I have just been fortunate to be around guys like that.

“We have some good young props coming through, and guys like Lizo (Gqoboko), but you learn a lot from the experienced guys and I learned a lot from rubbing shoulders with guys like Bongi and Malcolm. They take scrums very seriously and the set piece generally very seriously and that inspired something in me.”

With Dweba’s throwing in at the lineout having improved beyond bounds since he has been at the Stormers, there shouldn’t be as much criticism of him as there sometimes is. He takes it all philosophically, and appears to be committed to correcting 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 push for that. It starts at your union. I am working on my battle-rate, work-rate, just trying to be busy around the park,” said Dweba.

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