COMMENT: Why the Springboks can’t afford to lose Bongi Mbonambi for Rugby World Cup final

Bongi Mbonambi is the only recognised hooker in the Springbok team. Photo: BackpagePix

Bongi Mbonambi is the only recognised hooker in the Springbok team. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Oct 24, 2023


There is no doubt that the Springbok coaching staff got their selections wrong for the semi-final against England and the million-dollar question is do they now freshen up a jaded team or do they trust that the enormity of a World Cup final will rouse tired players for one last hurrah.

Apart from the Romania game, the Boks had energy-sapping matches against Scotland, Ireland, Tonga, France and England. This would always be the challenge in a “Pool of Death” — even if you escaped it, what shape would you be in for the knockout round?

Unquestionably, the intensity of the France quarter-final — widely lauded as the best game of rugby ever played — took its toll on the Boks and the coaches should have introduced fresh legs.

They didn't but, fortunately for South Africa, the substitutes saved the day — players who have played much less than the main starters. RG Snyman, Ox Nche, Kwagga Smith and Deon Fourie were the chalk to the cheese that was exhausted Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Frans Malherbe, Steven Kitshoff and Duane Vermeulen.

Etzebeth went from having arguably his best-ever game for the Boks (against France) to having his worst 40 minutes. Kolisi was similarly disappointing, as was the entire front row while Vermuelen at No 8 was nowhere. Bongi Mbonambi throwing-in was poor. He can't be replaced because he is the only specialist hooker in the squad and Fourie offers too much off the bench in his ability to also cover flank.

The problem for the Boks is that they rely on intensity and physicality to win them big games and when they haven't got those commodities, they are in a tight corner.

In short, England out-muscled the off-colour Boks until the “Bomb Squad” fizzed up the SA effort.

The big conversations this week in the Bok camp ahead of the team announcement on Thursday will be between the conditioning, medical and coaching staff about which players can pull themselves together and which should be replaced.

Selecting the forwards is way more complicated than picking the backs, who by the nature of the game take far less punishment.

Rain is once more predicted, meaning the Boks must start with Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk. Cobus Reinach and Manie Libbok are superb dryweather players, but it is going to rain in Paris all week.

As Pollard showed when he replaced Libbok after 30 minutes, he is better equipped to control the game in the wet.

Going back to the forwards, it is simplistic to say that the players who did so well when they came on must now star. The thing is ... the subs did their job. They were picked to make an impact and that is what happened.

I think faith should be shown towards the pack that started against England with maybe one change — I would give Jasper Wiese a shot at No 8.

My argument is that the epic effort against France was physically tiring, but more than anything it drained them emotionally.

Physically, the players can recover by putting their feet up for the week. This final will be won in the minds and hearts, and indeed there is no better tonic than a World Cup final against the All Blacks.