‘Starting Mbonambi at RWC was a stroke of genius’

Coaches can reap rewards by backing their instincts in bold team selections, writes former Springbok STEFAN TERBLANCHE in the latest SA Rugby magazine.

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I honestly can’t believe it’s been a whole year since the Springboks lifted the coveted William Webb Ellis trophy in Japan. What is even harder to believe is the fact that on that historic day, when the English were beaten into submission, it would also be the last time we’d see the Boks play rugby for more than a year.

If you’d told any rugby supporter this would be the case back then, they would have looked at you sideways.

Even so, we’ve all been recently reminded of how it takes a very special team, but more importantly a unique blend of talented and caring individuals, to lift that Cup.

It may sound like the easiest thing to do but in a brutal professional sport like rugby, not only do you have to compete with the opposition on the field, but you also face stiff competition within the team for starting positions.

For the average rugby supporter, who is not always privy to what goes on behind the scenes, the popular Chasing the Sun documentary offered a wonderful reminder of how team unity and hard work can result in title-winning success. It was very special indeed.

When you look at team dynamics in all professional sports teams, and not just the successful ones, you will find there are plenty of similarities. You will have the regular starting members more or less certain of their places and a few others pushing hard to make the run-on team.

When you go into a World Cup, the coach and his management team will generally have a very clear 1st XV in mind and you will seldom see changes, other than through injury or serious loss of form.

Don’t get me wrong; the team will always change and everyone in the squad usually gets a start against some of the weaker teams, but when the competition reaches the business end, the ‘big boys’ will start.

Rassie Erasmus’ team was no different and he had to make some tough calls on team selection. At two ends of the spectrum you had Malcolm Marx playing well, while Willie le Roux was a game-breaker and genius when on song at the back. However, he battled with form before and very much during the tournament.

Looking back now, for many of us it was a shock when Rassie dropped Malcolm to the bench and decided to stick with Willie at fullback. Those are the calls and the decisions a coach will live and die by.

The decision to start Bongi Mbonambi at the World Cup was a stroke of genius and he proved to be worth every bit of trust Rassie placed in him. Continuing to back Willie had exactly the same effect, but many would not have been that brave or well-informed to go through with it.

Rassie had the vision, belief and know-how to not only get the best out of Willie and Bongi, but also each and every individual in that special team. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the reason we won the World Cup.

*This column first appeared in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!

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Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images