PRETORIA – There can be no denying the status of Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx in world rugby as one of the leading No 2s, but his biggest adversary is not from another country and instead from within the Springbok squad.
The emergence of Bongi Mbonambi as a more than competent international hooker during the June series against England not only calmed any fears that Bok coach Rassie Erasmus had regarding the lack of depth and experience at hooker, it has instead created a pleasant headache as to when to play Marx and when Mbonambi.
Well, it is a scenario that every international coach wants to have, but it is also obvious that Marx enjoys the trust and confidence of Erasmus more than Mbonambi.
However, Erasmus will be the first to admit that Mbonambi has done a lot of things right on the Boks’ end-of-year tour to Europe while Marx has been far from his best and has had some of his frailties badly exposed.
And maybe, just maybe Erasmus will be seriously consider swapping the two for the clash against Wales at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday with Mbonambi high on confidence after his highly-commendable contributions off the bench in the three Tests against England, France and Scotland.
Mbonambi will be remembered most for his match-winning heroics against France with that last-gasp try, but it was the steadiness that he brought to a struggling lineout and scrum against England that underlined his value to the team.
When Marx’s credentials as a hooker were under the microscope after three lost lineout throws five metres from the England tryline, it was Mbonambi who restored some order to the ailing Bok lineout with four on target lineout throws when he came off the bench.
While Mbonambi doesn’t have much of the venom Marx has with his tackle busting runs and incredible turnover rate at the breakdown, the former St Alban’s hooker more than makes up for it by doing the basics very well.
And that is what is needed for teams to win Test matches, doing the basics well and Mbonambi could just be the perfect fit in the Bok front row as they seek to overturn a three-Test losing streak against the Welsh.
Mbonambi supplements his effective lineout throwing and steady work in the scrums by being a good ball carrier and a solid defender.
The good deeds of Mbonambi’s game have been enough to get him into the Bok team over the past three seasons, but they did not convince former coach Allister Coetzee and now Erasmus that he is worthy of a starting berth.
In June, Mbonambi would have silenced a lot of his detractors with two sparkling performances in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein and this for a man who did not play Super Rugby this season due to injury.
But it has been on this end-of-year tour that Mbonambi has proven his worth in the team and has done more than Marx to warrant a starting berth in what will be the most important game of the tour.@Vata_Ngobeni