Mbonambi the biggest winner after England series

Mark Keohane (File)
Mark Keohane (File)

Duane Vermeulen, among the forwards, and Faf de Klerk, among the backs, took the Springbok player of the series awards against England.

But hooker Bongi Mbonambi was, for me, the biggest winner.

Springbok first-choice hooker Malcolm Marx was ruled out of the series during Super Rugby and South Africa’s veteran Test hooker Bismarck du Plessis was also unavailable because of an injury sustained while playing for Montpellier in the Top 14 final.

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus had no hesitation in selecting a fit-again Mbonambi to start against England.

Mbonambi had missed all 13 of the Stormers Super Rugby matches but returned to rugby with two provincial outings for Western Province in the SuperSport Challenge.

Erasmus and the Springbok medical team were comfortable with Mbonambi’s health and fitness a week before the England series started and Erasmus spoke up the qualities of Mbonambi.

Marx, in 2017, was comfortably the form hooker in world rugby and exceptional playing for the Springboks in the Rugby Championship. He remains a class apart from most, but Erasmus had no doubt Mbonambi would deliver with extended playing time.

The coach wasn’t wrong because the player produced two matches of the highest quality.

Mbonambi been good when starting for the Springboks against Italy in 2017. The Stormers hooker had been in the national set-up for a couple of years but his game time had been very limited. He would get the occasional few minutes and the perception, through his lack of playing opportunity, was that there wasn’t trust in his ability to be the No 1 hooker.

Erasmus was candid in backing the player. He also said that hooker was a position that demanded at least five or six options in the build-up to the World Cup.

The attrition rate is high among hookers and no team could rely on one or two stalwarts to make it through 18 Tests.

Erasmus said it was his plan to accommodate five hookers, maybe even more, in the 18 Tests between the Springboks’ first against Wales on June 2 and the last in 2019 before the World Cup starts.

Marx and Du Plessis will feature in 2018 and 2019, at some stage, prior to the World Cup and Mbonambi, Akker van der Merwe, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Schalk Brits all played for the Springboks the year’s first four Tests.

Already that’s six in the mix.

Mbonambi was comfortably the most impressive of the June quartet and his form was arguably the most satisfying result among the Springboks, when individually assessed.

The Test doubts over Mbonambi had no basis because he had never been given the game time to warrant a judgement.

The fact is he’s got the goods, and the set piece challenge doesn’t come tougher than England.

He was strong in the scrum in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein, accurate in his lineout throwing and explosive when on running onto the ball.

He was more than adequate; he was bloody good. He proved more than a stop gap measure for Marx. Mbonambi seized the moment and made a statement.

Elton Jantjies, unfortunately, was the opposite of Mbonambi. Jantjies also got two starts and just did not produce.

I’ve carried the pom poms among the Jantjies support base for the last two seasons. I’ve willed him to succeed and delighted in any half measure of success. The cool, collected and calculating match-winner in Super Rugby disappears when playing for the Springboks.

Jantjies, who made his Test debut in 2012, has played 26 Tests and started in 19. He is now 27 years old and if a player hasn’t settled after six years and 26 Tests then he isn’t going to settle at Test level.

It’s time to move on and the flyhalf investment in Springbok game time must be with Damian Willemse as an alternative and very different option to Handre Pollard, who is at this juncture the No 1 Springbok flyhalf.

The June Tests provided more answers than questions in who swam and who sank, although I did expect greater presence and impact from Jean-Luc du Preez. He seemed to make up the numbers in a series I had picked him to be among one of the biggest numbers.

As for Mbonambi... I had him to make up the numbers and instead he announced himself as a serious number when it comes to Test rugby.

Mark Keohane is a Cape-Town based award-winning rugby specialist and former Springbok Communications Manager. Follow him on Twitter 

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

Previous Mark Keohane columns on Sport24:

Boks will win Rugby Championship

Rassie shows Boks can transform - and win

Judge Boks after England series!

Boks can pick 2 teams of equal strength

Why Kolisi is the best option to lead Boks

Louw’s Bok credentials soar after Newlands derby

Newlands derby is D-Day for Springbok contenders

Kolisi needs to up his game

'X-factor' RG Snyman deserves Bok call

There is enough quality for Boks to excel in 2018

Is SANZAAR waiting for the death of a player?

Bok series will be the end of Eddie Jones

Don't blame transformation for SA rugby woes

Stormers don't have halfbacks to challenge in Super Rugby

Bulls will be a different animal under Mitchell

Back Sharks to be SA's top team

Rassie's Boks will beat England's Eddie

Shocking results, not race behind Coetzee's axing

No tournament with Sunwolves can be 'best v best'!

How Rassie plans to re-align SA Rugby

Scrap the 30-Test ruling and make Cheslin Kolbe a Bok!

Blitzboks, not All Blacks, the talk of Cape Town

Kids don't win RWCs, get back Duane, Frans!

Why Rassie is the man to take Boks forward

Paris glory won't erase Albany and Dublin gore

I'd happily take a 1-point win!

To vote against SA's bid would be an insult

Bosch will win Currie Cup final for Sharks

No current Bok would make 2007 team!

Dublin is D-Day for Boks

All Blacks' lack of desire gives Boks a sniff

Boks will beat Wallabies, but...

Bok changes won't spell panic

Boks will run All Blacks close

Win or lose in Perth, Boks have made progress!

Etzebeth is the right choice for Bok captain!

Kriel sets example others should follow

Combrinck to lead Lions to Super Rugby title

Jantjies the man to lead Lions to glory

Stormers WILL reach Super Rugby semis!

Stormers need to back youngster Willemse

Serfontein, Mostert the Boks standouts

Boks must extend Brendan 'Mr Fixit' Venter's role

Coetzee's Lions-laden Bok side can't lose!

Expect a different looking Bok starting XV!

Fear not, Boks will whitewash France 3-0!

Hey Allister, load the Boks with Lions!

The RWC 2019 gods have smiled on the Boks!

Unleash Curwin Bosch on the French!

YES, an overseas-based SA team would beat the Boks, but...

The next Springbok skipper has to be...

Super Rugby cull good for SA rugby

Clap, clap ... Venter's appointment should be applauded

South African rugby NEEDS to host RWC 2023

Why SA can't have 6 Super Rugby teams

Super 12 glory is now Super 18 gory

No winner is SARU's half-cocked overseas policy

Keeping Coetzee sadly no April Fools' joke

Mediocrity must fall!

Overseas based SA players are no traitors!

Sick Boks need more than a new doctor

Joost earned more than a minute's silence

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
After the opening weekend of URC action, what did you make of the South African struggles?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
It exposed the quality of South African rugby...
39% - 2035 votes
There were positives to take
7% - 357 votes
We shouldn't read too much into one weekend
17% - 883 votes
It will take the SA sides time to adjust to the new competition
38% - 1965 votes