CAPE TOWN – Some Springbok fans – especially those who support the Lions provincially – may have been miffed by Rassie Erasmus’ decision to start Bongi Mbonambi instead of Malcolm Marx against Australia on Saturday.
Marx’s ability to turn ball over at the breakdowns have made him a cult hero in some quarters, and his barn-storming carries have made him an integral part of the Bok side.
But there are still lingering question marks over his lineout-throwing, and it is in that area where Mbonambi perhaps has a slight edge at the moment.
Erasmus, though, felt that Saturday’s clash at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane (12pm SA time kickoff) was a chance to hand the Stormers No 2 another start after he excelled against England in Marx’s absence.
“Bongi was our starting hooker in June. We did really well with him in the two Test matches that he played, we actually won,” Erasmus told SuperSport TV in Brisbane on Thursday.
“And Malcolm has been playing non-stop since he’s been back from injury, so I think that this is the right time to rotate them.”
Erasmus made a number of changes to the side, with Steven Kitshoff joining his provincial teammates Mbonambi and Frans Malherbe in the front row, while Pieter-Steph du Toit comes in at blindside flank.
Elton Jantjies gets an opportunity at flyhalf, while a familiar centre pair of Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel are reunited.
“Kitsie has been knocking hard on the door, and he has a massive impact when he comes off the bench. (Some) think Beast maybe doesn’t have such a big impact, but I think he (Kitshoff) has knocked hard enough now on the door to deserve a start,” Erasmus told SuperSport TV.
“Pieter-Steph is just playing so well that you have to find a spot for him in the team. The way the two second-rowers have been playing, Franco and Eben, it’s tough to get one of them out. So I guess Pieter-Steph has been knocking the door down, and hopefully this combination will give us reward that we want.
“This Test match, just between the centres there are 30-plus Test caps. Playing against an Australian team with Beale and all of those wonderful strike-runners – Folau – and all of these mini-moves they do, I think this centre combination will help us settle on defence.”
Cheslin Kolbe will finally get his big Bok break from the bench, and Erasmus said he has been impressed by what he has seen from the Toulouse utility back.
“The main thing is that he is an out-and-out 15, although he’s only 24, 25 years old. He is a guy who can play there and can cover wing as well. I’ve always felt that he has the potential and ability to be a wonderful Test 15 – like I thought Gio Aplon might’ve been,” the coach said.
“Certainly a very confident player at this stage – if you look at him slotting in and understanding the plays and things we want to do, I’m very excited about him.”
15 Willie le Roux 14 Makazole Mapimpi 13 Jesse Kriel 12 Damian de Allende 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi 10 Elton Jantjies 9 Faf de Klerk 8 Warren Whiteley 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit 6 Siya Kolisi (captain) 5 Franco Mostert 4 Eben Etzebeth 3 Frans Malherbe 2 Bongi Mbonambi 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Bench: 16 Malcolm Marx 17 Tendai Mtawarira 18 Wilco Louw 19 RG Snyman 20 Francois Louw 21 Embrose Papier 22 Handré Pollard 23 Cheslin Kolbe.