Allister Coetzee admits that Bongi Mbonambi will bring something different to the hooker position in what will be the player’s first Test start on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI in Padua reports.
The Springboks head into the next match against Italy without star player Malcolm Marx. The first-choice hooker injured his shoulder in the Test against France last Saturday.
Scans confirmed that no serious damage has been done. And yet, Marx has been unable to take contact in training this week and will play no part in the Test against Italy in Padua.
The upshot is that Mbonambi will win his first start for South Africa. Last year, he played understudy to then-captain Adriaan Strauss in 10 of the team’s 12 Tests. Despite Strauss’ retirement from international rugby, Mbonambi has continued to warm the bench in nine out of 11 games this season.
Marx has been in great ball-carrying and breakdown form for both the Boks and the Lions this season, and has deserved to start for the national side. Indeed, Marx has to be one of the frontrunners for the 2017 South African Player of the Year award.
Speaking from the team’s base on Thursday, Coetzee admitted that the Boks have lost something with the forced exclusion of Marx, and gained something else with Mbonambi’s inclusion.
‘There may be a few questions about how good Bongi will be. Of course he will be good,’ the Bok coach said.
‘I rate him highly. I’ve given him the opportunity and now he will take it. He’s a good player and he fits in well with our plan.
‘He’s been playing behind Malcolm Marx, who’s been in outstanding form. I’m happy for him to start and for Chiliboy Ralepelle to come off the bench.
‘Obviously they’re different hookers. Bongi brings his own strengths to the team.
‘Bongi has to make sure we have an accurate, well-functioning lineout. He’s a great scrummager, there’s no doubt about it. We saw that in the Stormers when he was scrumming alongside Wilco Louw.
‘Bongi’s been throwing in superbly this week. In general play, he’s not renowned as a strong ball-carrier, but he can take the ball up when we need him to.
‘His biggest asset for us is to play towards the ball; along with Francois Louw he’s got a big job to do in terms of securing the ball for us against Italy. He’s got an engine on him. He’ll never stop playing.’
Bok centre Francois Venter said that the team is expecting a fierce challenge at the breakdown.
‘One thing about these Italians is that they are very passionate as well,’ said Venter. ‘We’ve heard it said they want to channel David [in this scenario, it’s inferred that Italy are David and the Boks are Goliath] and try to beat us. They will be up for the scrap at the breakdown, and we will need to step up physically.
‘Our breakdowns were key against France, but we need to improve. Even if they are lying on our side of the ruck, we will need to handle that.
‘We've put last year aside,’ Venter added, referring to the shock 20-18 loss to Italy in Florence. ‘There’s a new look and the way we are playing is not comparable to that of 2016.
'This game can’t be personal, but every time you put on the Bok colours you have to go out there and perform. We’ve put in the prep, and now we just need to focus on our strong points and hopefully the result will go our way.’
Photo: Gallo Images
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