While Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has said his selections for their must-win game against Italy are due to the massive forward battle they are expecting in Shizuoka on Friday, it’s also a reward for top form.
The trio of front rowers Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi and lock Lood de Jager have been selected for the Boks’ World Cup clash – the only changes to the starting side that did duty in their opener with New Zealand. Last week, the front row of Mtawarira, Mbonambi and Vincent Koch were massive in their 57-3 beating of Namibia, while De Jager shined as he produced a man-of-the-match performance.
It was a solid performance from the forwards overall as they dominated their neighbours at scrum time, aced the lineout and also produced an impressive mauling performance – something that would have pleased Erasmus after they didn’t do too well in that area in Yokohama.
Yes, that was only Namibia, who had also rested some of their players for their game against the Boks, but it’s the same kind of quality Erasmus will be hoping to see from his men up front on Friday. Mbonambi’s promotion to the starting line-up in particular is a well-deserved one.
The Stormers hooker has been hot on No 2 incumbent Malcolm Marx’s heels for some time now, and it would not at all be an exaggeration to say that he has surpassed Marx when it comes to his basic duties.
Both hookers have had their fair share of struggles where the lineout is concerned, but Mbonambi has evolved from those days and has been in top form in 2019.
While you can argue that in today’s game it probably doesn’t matter much whether a front rower starts or comes off the bench, he has been a huge presence for the Boks this year and a start, at the very least, should be seen as a reward for his strong productions.
Mtawarira has also done well in recent times, showing that he can still bring more than just experience.
On the duo’s selection, Erasmus explained: “Italy have a very good pack and put a lot of effort in their set phases. Beast Mtawarira and Bongi have produced some great performances when they’ve received the opportunity.
“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.”
De Jager, on the other hand, finally gets his chance after working his way back from the serious injury he suffered during this year’s Super Rugby competition.
Before injury hit, De Jager could boldy claim the “top lineout operator” tag, and at the weekend, he built on his superb performances with one that would have been extremely hard to ignore for Erasmus.
On De Jager’s presence in the forward unit, 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.”
Again, while these selections are very much “horses for courses”, all three of these players fully deserves this chance. @WynonaLouw