Bongi Mbonambi has earned the right to wear the No 2 jersey in the must-win clash with Italy, writes JON CARDINELLI in Omaezaki.
Malcolm Marx was the front-runner for the No 2 duties in the big games prior to the start of the World Cup. Two matches into the campaign, however, and the pecking order is not so clear-cut.
Marx has had a relatively quiet start to the tournament in Japan. The Boks need the versatile player to find the magic that made him the best hooker in the world last year. They will certainly need a player with his X factor later in the tournament.
The good news is that Mbonambi has found another gear over the past couple of weeks. The Stormers hooker has been one of the Boks’ best performers at the set pieces and breakdowns in the first two games.
The talk in the Bok camp is that Mbonambi has been included in the starting XV this week as part of a horses-for-courses strategy. And yet, given that the Boks need to win the game against Italy to qualify for the playoffs, one could easily interpret the selection as a reward for his excellent form.
‘Beast Mtawarira and Bongi had produced some great performances when they’ve received the opportunity,’ said Rassie Erasmus. ‘These selections are also based on the challenge we will get from Italy on Friday. The physical challenge will be at the scrum and maul.’
Lood de Jager’s promotion to the A side should not come as a surprise. De Jager was viewed as South Africa’s premier lineout manager prior to his serious injury in the 2019 Super Rugby tournament. After a long battle back, and some eye-catching performances, De Jager appears ready to resume his responsibilities as the frontline No 5.
‘There’s a six-day turnaround between the games against Namibia and Italy,’ Erasmus said. ‘Lood is a great lineout operator and we don’t want to change too much in this period. Franco Mostert, with his high work rate, will have a role to play from the bench.’
The Bok coach explained why he’s opted for a six-two split on the bench. The move makes sense given the forward challenge that Italy will present. One or two of the fringe players may have been rested ahead of the final pool game against Canada, though, as that clash will be staged just four days after the match against Italy.
‘Our analysis showed us that it would be better to spread the workload between more players,’ Erasmus said. ‘That’s why we’ve picked nearly two separate packs for this game. That will help us in the buildup to the next game against Canada.
‘It might look like we’re overloading the players, but we’re actually spreading the workload.’
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