Quintin van Jaarsveld highlights five Springbok players who’ll be in the spotlight in the blockbuster battle against France in Marseille on Saturday.
By now, it’s common practice for Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber to rotate their two primary hookers. After all, there’s little that separates Mbonambi and the man he replaces, Malcolm Marx, both of whom have over 50 Test caps. However, sometimes the Springbok coaches overcomplicate things with unnecessary tweaks and this is an example of that.
Having lost their lineout general Lood de Jager to injury in last weekend’s brutal battle against Ireland, why make an additional change at hooker? Mbonambi is dependable with his lineout throwing but continuity would’ve smoothed things over.
Moreover, Marx’s key strength is the added value he provides with his pilfering prowess at the breakdown. France’s hooker Julien Marchand is a master of this art himself, making Marx’s demotion all the more questionable as it leaves the Springboks sans a poacher in the starting line-up.
Mbonambi will have to blow away would-be tacklers with his explosive power and fire in the set pieces to make the trade-off worth it.
De Jager’s shoulder injury sees “Sous” take over the No 5 jersey. He’s often praised for his “add-ons”, the agility and remarkable work rate that have seen him evolve into a utility forward and start seven of his 60 Tests at flank, including the series decider against the British & Irish Lions last August.
However, the lineout is such a key facet of both South Africa and France’s game that a back-to-basics approach is what’s needed from Mostert, where his main focus is on calling the lineout and ensuring it operates like clockwork.
Faf de Klerk
Stability and direction. That’s what the Springbok coaches hope to get out of turning back to De Klerk in place of Jaden Hendrikse.
The latter has usurped the blonde-haired veteran in the pecking order this season but a poor outing last weekend coincided with the need to give Damian Willemse greater guidance and assistance in the halves. It’s also why Cobus Reinach has been called onto the bench, along with his knowledge of French conditions.
De Klerk needs a big game to get his confidence back on the Test stage and his experience will steel him for the job at hand, which includes going head-to-head with Les Bleus’ captain and the best player in the world, Antoine Dupont.
The accuracy of De Klerk’s left boot will be crucial, perhaps more so than ever before as he might be entrusted with the goal-kicking responsibilities on top of having to launch long missiles and high bombs from the base.
It was bound to happen. Sooner or later, the Springboks’ lack of a Test-calibre goal-kicker was going to cost them and it did in Dublin. One has to feel for Willemse, who’s never been known as a sharpshooter off the tee but rather a mercurial talent, one that’s a team man playing out of position.
The shank that tanked his confidence early on affected his overall game as well; most notably when he squandered a try-scoring opportunity by failing to gather Ox Nche’s pass.
The Springbok coaches have resisted the urge to rush Manie Libbok into the run-on side and it’s unclear who’ll be burdened with the goal-kicking duties to start with.
With so much on Willemse’s plate as a stop-gap pivot already, it would be wiser to give De Klerk or Cheslin Kolbe that responsibility and allow Willemse to focus on executing a game plan that goes against his instincts.
What a journey it’s been for a man who was known as a journeyman before he found his rugby home in picturesque Cape Town and redefined himself as a franchise flyhalf.
Not any franchise flyhalf, but a consistent, polished performer who piloted his new team, the Stormers, to unexpected United Rugby Championship glory. What seemed impossible two years ago, Libbok becoming a Springbok, is now days away and a call-up the country as a whole has been clamouring for, especially in the wake of the disappointing Dublin defeat.
As a specialist flyhalf and reliable goal-kicker, he’s naturally a better fit than Willemse at No 10, even if the Springboks play a different brand of rugby than the Stormers. Because he wasn’t brought into the national fray sooner, though, the coaches feel he’s not familiar enough with the structures to slot straight into the starting line-up.
Still, all eyes will be on him when he comes off the bench to make his Springbok bow and when the dust settles, he might well be the hero.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 Makazole Mapimpi.