Our Springbok stars of the 2019 World Cup
CAPE TOWN – It was a brilliant team effort by the Springboks to bring the Rugby World Cup back home, but we challenged our rugby writers to pick their five individual “five-star Boks” from the tournament.
There was a time when so many questioned the international merits of Mbonambi. Not anymore and never again. What he needed was a coach who believed in him as a player, and he got that with Rassie Erasmus. The Bok coach did not compare Mbonambi to regular starting hooker Malcolm Marx. Erasmus identified his strengths as a scrummaging hooker, a menace on the carry and a hooker who did the basics very well. Marx was explosive and a different type of hooker. Erasmus figured that to get the best of both hookers’ qualities, it meant starting with Mbonambi and finishing with Marx. It worked a treat and Mbonambi came of age as a Test player.
Talking of age, the 38 year-old Brits was simply sensational for the Boks, when he played and when he didn’t. It was his influence when not playing that made him so important to the winning of this World Cup. Brits’ enthusiasm and love for life and rugby had a knock-on effect within the squad and he was integral to ensuring those eight players not involved in the knockout round didn’t lose touch with the 23 who were playing. Brits, in another era, would have played 100-plus Tests for South Africa and his World Cup winners’ medal is among the fairy tale Bok stories. He also deservedly got to captain the Boks.
Nienaber is Erasmus’ right hand. Where Erasmus has gone in his professional career, so too has Nienaber. The two restored dignity to the Stormers and made Newlands a fortress. Opposition teams battled to break down the Stormers defence. So too when they were at Munster and now with the Boks. Nienaber is the premier defensive specialist in world rugby and the Boks, outside of the two tries New Zealand scored in three minutes, conceded one try in the knockout round and two in 520 minutes of World Cup rugby.
There isn’t a more fluent sight than when Mapimpi puts on the after-burners. For me he is currently the best wing finisher in the game and has a strike rate of 14 tries from 14 Tests. Erasmus described Mapimpi as the most improved player in his 18-month Bok coaching tenure. Erasmus raved about Mapimpi’s understanding of the game, his defensive strengths and just how he improved under the high ball. Mapimpi was superb all tournament and poignantly scored the Boks’ first-ever try in a World Cup final.
He was the world’s best Under-21 player and sizzled on his Test debut against Scotland in 2014. In the same year he scored two tries and 19 points against the All Blacks at Ellis Park. Then injury struck, two seasons were lost and many wondered if he could ever scale those heights he did as a 21-year-old. He was good at the 2015 World Cup, without being imposing, but at the 2019 World Cup he stood tallest when it mattered the most. He showed nerves of steel to kick the penalty that won the Boks the semi-final against Wales and was outstanding in scoring 22 points in the World Cup final.
“Beast” arrived in Japan under pressure from Steven Kitshoff for his position in the starting line-up and responded by delivering his best rugby in years. The 34-year-old busted a gut in every minute he played and Kitshoff would have appreciated the “softening up” job done by his teammate. Mtawarira’s scrumming performance in the final, where he annihilated Dan Cole, was reminiscent of his famous demolition of Phil Vickery in the British & Irish Lions Test in Durban in 2009. At this conclusion of his Bok career, Beast can certainly hold his head high.
Little guys that punch above their weight are always going to be crowd favourites, and even more so when they perform substantially better than the big fellows. The indomitable, indefatigable Kolbe won hearts all-tournament with his fearless tackling of the tallest timber on the park; his deft stepping; sheer acceleration; and finesse in the aerial contests. His try in the final, to cap the Boks’ triumph, is my favourite of the tournament. He had no right to score given the cover defence was honing in on him, but he skinned Owen Farrell and miraculously got through.
In World Cup finals you need your veterans to come to the party and lead the way. Vermeulen stepped up in Yokohama last Saturday and played his best game of the tournament, which is saying a lot because he was far from shabby in the other games. Raw physicality was going to win that final for the Boks, and none was more warrior-like than the 33-year-old No 8.
Faf de Klerk
Has any other Bok been the butt of so many social-media jokes? I doubt it... De Klerk was even more criticised than error-prone Willie le Roux, even though most understood that the infernal box kicks were a decree from Erasmus. But as boring as those kicks were to watch, they were an effective part of the Boks’ game plan. De Klerk never let the criticism get to him and went about his business like the rabid terrier he is. De Klerk was an absolutely vital cog in the Bok machine.
Damian de Allende
The powerfully built centre has had more than his fair share of critics over the years and it is fair to say that the No 12 jersey was one of the last that Erasmus nailed down. One of the coach’s masterstrokes at the World Cup was to play to De Allende’s strengths rather than try and get him to play a game for which he doesn’t have the tools. He was often used as an extra loose forward - especially as a ball carrier -rather than asked to be a playmaker. He had an exceptional World Cup and no wonder Irish giants Munster want him.