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RUGBY

Bongi Mbonambi set to become 65th Springbok Test captain in clash against Argentina

Bongi Mbonambi set to become 65th Springbok Test captain in clash against Argentina
Bongi Mbonambi of South Africa with the ball during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Australia at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on 8 July 2023 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images)

Hooker Bongi Mbonambi will achieve a proud personal milestone this weekend when he captains the Springboks for the first time, against Argentina in Buenos Aires on 5 August (early hours of 6 August SA time).

Bongi Mbonambi will become the 65th player to captain the Springboks in a Test since 1891. Of the 932 players who have represented the Springboks at Test level, he is only the second black player, after Siya Kolisi, to be afforded this honour. 

The powerful front-rower is the sixth new Test captain in the Rassie Erasmus-Jacques Nienaber era following Pieter-Steph du Toit, Kolisi, Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Brits and Handré Pollard. 

Mbonambi has been one of the core leadership group for years and has often been cast in the role of “good cop” with referees — for example, asking them if they’re liking the picture the Boks are presenting at set pieces. 

He is used to the role and Saturday’s formal appointment is recognition of his contribution and leadership credentials. 

Prop Gerhard Steenekamp could become Springbok No 933 if he comes off the bench to make his debut at the José Amalfitani Stadium, while the side sees 13 changes to the starting XV that beat the Pumas 22-21 at Ellis Park last week. 

This is the last chance for players to impress before the 33-man Rugby World Cup 2023 squad is named on 8 August. 

Gerhard Steenekamp of the Vodacom Bulls on his way to scoring his try during the United Rugby Championship match between Vodacom Bulls and Zebre Parma at Emirates Airline Park on 15 April 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Christiaan Kotze / Gallo Images)

All change 

Mbonambi — who will earn his 60th Test cap this weekend — takes over the responsibilities in the absence of stand-in captains Eben Etzebeth and Duane Vermeulen, who remained behind in South Africa with a group of players in a conditioning camp. 

Steenekamp has progressed through the South African rugby ranks in the past few seasons after representing the Junior Springboks. He made a strong statement for the Bulls in the United Rugby Championship and is the only uncapped player in the squad. 

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber named a vastly different matchday squad to the side that defeated Argentina 22-21 last week, with the only two players retaining their places in the starting team being flyhalf Manie Libbok and lock Marvin Orie. 

Nienaber also named a rejigged bench, with utility forward Jean-Luc du Preez and scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies donning the jersey for the first time this season as the coaches attempt to give as many players as possible a chance to prove themselves. 

Mbonambi will form a strong front row with props Trevor Nyakane and Thomas du Toit, while Jean Kleyn will earn his second start in a lock combination with Orie. 

Nienaber also named a physical loose trio with flankers Deon Fourie and Franco Mostert, and No 8 Jasper Wiese, while experienced scrumhalf Cobus Reinach will join forces with Libbok at halfback. 

The backline also features grunt and class as Makazole Mapimpi, Canan Moodie (both wings) and Damian Willemse (fullback) form an exciting back three, while Andre Esterhuizen and Lukhanyo Am — who has been named vice-captain for the match — will pair up in the midfield. 

Wing Kurt-Lee Arendse has been declared fit to play after suffering a finger injury on Saturday and will provide backline cover with Jesse Kriel and Jantjies on a bench featuring a five-three split in favour of the forwards. 

“This selection includes plenty of Rugby World Cup and Lions Series winners as well as a former Irish international in Jean Kleyn, and this just shows the quality of the depth we have,” said Nienaber. 

“We’ve been emphasising the importance of giving as many players as possible a fair chance to show what they can do with an eye on finalising our Rugby World Cup squad, so we are pleased to give Herschel and Jean-Luc an opportunity to play. 

“This is going to be a massive physical battle and there will be a lot of pressure on the players mentally and physically, which is exactly the type of situation we would like to see them in as we enter our World Cup warm-up games.” 

Jesse Kriel of the Springboks during the Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Argentina at Emirates Airline Park on 29 July 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

Lood and Jaden in the mix 

Lock Lood de Jager was set to play, but illness has ruled him out, while scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse also sits this one out. 

Hendrikse has endured a tough few months, with serious injury and the death of his father. But as a permanent member of the squad for the past two seasons, he is almost certain to make the World Cup cut. 

“There is nothing wrong with Jaden. He is fit and ready to go. The thing around him, he would’ve played if it wasn’t for the unfortunate family tragedy that happened,” Nienaber said. 

“The plan we had about who is going to play where and when was explained to the squad, but we said there might have to be adjustments for injuries or loss of form. It was plotted out way in advance. 

“It’s a little bit easier for us to make a decision on Jaden because we know him and know what he can do. We’ve seen him in training. We know what he did for us last year — his first big game was against the All Blacks at Mbombela when Faf [de Klerk] got concussed. 

“With little Test experience, he helped the pack and drove them forward to get a good result. 

“We know what we have in him. There’s nothing you must read into it. It was just unfortunate. We wanted to give Cobus [Reinach] another go this weekend and we wanted to give Herschel [Jantjies] a go. 

“It is Hersch’s first opportunity this year. Jaden would’ve got an opportunity earlier, but he is just unfortunate due to circumstances. 

“Lood last played against New Zealand so it would’ve been nice to give him a go. 

“Unfortunately, he is sick. He isn’t injured, just sick. So medically, we feel it’s a bit of a risk. That’s why Marvin is starting.” DM 

Springboks

15 Damian Willemse, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jean Kleyn, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Bongi Mbonambi (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane 

Reserves: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jean-Luc du Preez, 20 Evan Roos, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Jesse Kriel 23 Kurt-Lee Arendse 

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