JOHANNESBURG – It was really only a matter of time before Bongi Mbonambi forced his way into the Springbok starting team.
The regular back-up man to Malcolm Marx has performed so well from off the bench – and in the few starts he has had – that coach Rassie Erasmus could no longer justify keeping him on the bench. Mbonambi has simply played his way into the starting XV at the Rugby World Cup in Japan rather than Marx doing anything wrong to be relegated to the bench.
The Stormers man will deservedly wear the No 2 on his back against Italy in the crucial Pool B match on Friday in one of three changes to the “first choice” Bok side that faced the All Blacks in their opening game in Yokohama. Joining Mbonambi in the starting team are veteran prop Tendai Mtawarira and lock Lood de Jager.
Mbonambi has been one of the Boks’ form men under Erasmus in the last two years and has now edged ahead of Marx in the pecking order. The 28-year-old, who scored two tries from the back of the maul against Namibia last Saturday, has produced impressive numbers in several areas of the game in recent times.
Mbonambi is a grafter, who’ll get stuck in at every ruck and maul, and he’ll bring a different kind of energy to the Bok game. He’s also a highly-rated scrummager and line-out thrower.
Mtawarira brings experience and scrumming class to the Bok side this week, in what Erasmus believes will be a game won and lost up front and in the set-pieces.
The only man of the new players in the starting team this week who didn’t feature at all against the All Blacks is De Jager who, like Mbonambi, has simply forced his way into the “first choice team” through his performances. When fit and at his best, the Bulls man has no equal in the SA game as a No 5 lock. He was superb in every area against Namibia and showed he is ready to take on the big boys again.
He carries regularly and aggressively, wins his line-out ball and the restarts and makes plenty of tackles all over the field.
But it is not only the Bok pack that has been boosted for this week’s crucial match, but the bench, too, which packs an even bigger punch than against the All Blacks.
By picking this 23-man squad, Erasmus has basically told the Italians exactly what he plans to do: hurt them up front and simply out-power and out-muscle them.
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