Rassie Erasmus has a tough call to make regarding his starting hooker ahead of the do-or-die World Cup clash with Japan, writes JON CARDINELLI in Tokyo.
The Bok coach rotated his 31-man squad smartly over the course of the World Cup pool phase. Every player in the group received game time and all three hookers were afforded the chance to start.
Erasmus has settled on back-row and backline combinations as far as the ‘A’ side is concerned. What’s been less clear is whether he will stick with a specific tight five throughout the playoffs or opt for a horses-for-courses approach.
The subject was broached at a media conference in Kobe kast week. At that point, the Boks were waiting on the outcome of two Pool A fixtures to see whether they would face attack-minded Japan or pragmatic Ireland in the quarter-finals.
Erasmus explained that Mbonambi and Marx had different strengths. He pointed out that Mbonambi’s raw power was suited to a tighter, set-piece battle and that Marx’s ability to force turnovers and offload in contact would be an asset in a freeflowing contest.
He inferred that Mbonambi would start in an arm-wrestle against Ireland and that Marx would be favoured in a high-tempo affair against Japan.
Now that it’s been confirmed that the Boks will face Japan, however, one wonders if Erasmus will indeed back Marx to start.
Speaking from the team’s base in Shinjuku on Monday, Erasmus said that the Boks will need to play a faster game in order to live with Japan. That statement can be intepreted in different ways, though.
One can’t see the Boks forgoing their set-piece and kicking strategies to engage with a side like Japan in an all-out attacking contest. It would make more sense for the Boks to attack Japan at the set pieces in the early stages and build up a big first-half lead before upping the tempo later in the game. Mbonambi as well as Marx will have key roles to play in that kind of plan.
Two months ago, we saw Mbonambi, Beast Mtawarira and Trevor Nyakane targeting the Argentina scrum in the Rugby Championship decider. Prior to that game, many questioned Erasmus’ call to pick a second-string front row for such an important game. The call was made with the trio’s strength in mind, though, as well as the set-piece weakness of the opposition.
The Bok forwards destroyed the Pumas in the early stages. Argentina grew more desperate on attack as the game progressed, and the Boks proceeded to punish the home team’s errors by scoring points and tries at the other end of the park.
On Sunday night, coach Jamie Joseph highlighted Japan’s progress at the set pieces and how that improvement has enabled the Brave Blossoms to beat more tier-one nations. The Boks, however, will pose a different threat in this regard.
It wouldn’t surprise to see Mbonambi starting in the quarter-final on Sunday. Lood de Jager should also crack the nod for his lineout management expertise.
Again, while Franco Mostert and RG Snyman are more suited to a high-tempo contest with their work rate and offloading skills, De Jager’s marshalling of the maul will be needed when the Boks target the Japan forwards in the early stages.