As we reflect on a stunning 2019 Test season, CRAIG LEWIS identifies the three Bok players who emerged as the standout surprise packages.
What a year it has been for the 28-year-old. In fact, his success story should be traced back to the beginning of last year, when he suffered a burst appendix that threw his season into disarray.
Slowly but surely he worked his way back to fitness and form, but no one could have imagined just how Mbonambi would hit his peak in 2019.
Besides completing his primary set-piece duties with aplomb (there was just one lineout that went astray under his watch at the World Cup!), his defence, work rate and mobility went to another level this year.
Ultimately, he wrested the No 2 jersey from Malcolm Marx, but the ability for these two players to go flat out one after the other also proved to be a massive boon for the Boks.
There were still plenty of questions about the Boks’ scrumhalf options at the start of the year, and one of them was answered from a relatively unlikely source as Super Rugby rookie Herschel Jantjies quickly made a name for himself.
After starring for the Stormers, Jantjies then replicated that form on the Test stage without batting an eyelid. Few players have such a natural feel for the game, and it’s a particularly exciting prospect that the 23-year-old could still play for the better of the next decade.
It’s a season that undoubtedly would have defied Jantjies’ own expectations, and which culminated with him coming off the bench in the World Cup final. Little more needs to be said.
Early on in 2019, it seemed a virtual certainty that the Boks’ No 11 jersey would continue to belong to 2018 superstar Aphiwe Dyantyi. However, an injury and then a failed drugs test ruled him out of the World Cup.
As it was, Mapimpi had already emerged as South Africa’s form wing during Vodacom Super Rugby, making continued improvements on defence and under the high ball to go with his lethal finishing as a try-scoring machine.
At the World Cup itself, Mapimpi bagged six tries to finish as the Boks’ leading try-scorer at the tournament, which of course included his historic five-pointer in the final that made him the first South African to score in a RWC title decider.
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