CAPE TOWN – I think Malcolm Marx, when on top of his game, is without comparison among world hookers. However, there can be no disputing Bongi Mbonambi’s red-hot form of the past few months.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has rewarded Mbonambi’s powerful display against Namibia with a start against Italy in a match the Boks must win to stay in the World Cup on Friday.
Italy’s record in the Six Nations has been awful over the past five years. They are comfortably the worst of the six tier-one northern hemisphere teams. But they do have a powerful pack and they are deserving of the respect Erasmus has shown in his selections.
Erasmus has acknowledged Mbonambi’s power game in giving him a start ahead of Marx. The latter will most definitely add a dimension to the Boks when introduced against tiring legs. Erasmus may just have settled on the best one-two hooker combination for purposes of the result. Mbonambi is strong in the set piece and carries well. He brings solidity as a scrumming hooker. Marx, with his turnover ability and athleticism, gives the Boks a hooker/loose forward type of presence.
The quality of substitutes is what will define this World Cup. It is the players asked to break open a game or close it down that will determine who wins this tournament. The All Blacks in 2015 had incredible strength among their substitutes. You only have to think back to how Sonny Bill Williams and Beauden Barrett tore Australia to pieces in the World Cup final. Both were introduced in the second half and made an immediate impact.
Erasmus this season has opted to start Marx and loosehead Steven Kitshoff in most games, but in the context of Italy and the playoffs both, individually and as a combination, offer so much for their impact quality.
Tendai Mtawarira also gives the Boks more presence when he starts.
Erasmus has rewarded form in his forward selections and it is especially pleasing to see Lood de Jager start alongside Eben Etzebeth. De Jager was South Africa’s Player of the Year in 2015, but has really battled with injury in between World Cups. He was the standout player against Namibia and it is great to see him playing to the standard he set in 2015.
The Bok starting pack and substitutes are the best forward unit at this World Cup, but the backs don’t match the forwards for class when it comes to a collective.
Cheslin Kolbe aside there is more carthorse than stallion in the Bok back division. Willie le Roux has struggled to impose himself and I would have wanted to see Kolbe at fullback to accommodate Sbu Nkosi at right wing.
I would also have given Herschel Jantjies a start at scrumhalf against Italy. Jantjies has a Midas touch and I love his distribution and decision-making. I just get the sense that the loyalty to Faf de Klerk could ultimately prove costly.
The Bok starting midfield is also good without being outstanding. Losing Jesse Kriel through injury is big.
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