Bongi Mbonambi will captain the Springboks for the first time on Saturday when he leads a new-look combination against Argentina, with the abrasive hooker set to skipper the side despite many thinking Lukhanyo Am was the likely choice.
Mbonambi – who will earn his 60th Test cap this weekend – takes over the captain’s responsibilities in the absence of regular captain, Siya Kolisi, who is making encouraging progress following surgery to his knee, and stand-in captains Eben Etzebeth and Duane Vermeulen, who remained behind in South Africa with a group of players in a conditioning camp.
Although the decision to hand Mbonambi the captain’s armband may have caught some by surprise, coach Jacques Nienaber has provided clear reasoning behind the decision.
“Being a hooker, Bongi is a guy who talks to the ref the majority of the time in terms of scrums and lineouts,” Nienaber said. “The way he communicates with referees is exceptional and as captain, that’s probably going to be one of the main things.
“You want one guy to be speaking to the referee and it should be him. When there are discussions around set pieces and scrums, it’s normally the hookers.
“When your captain is Siya Kolisi, he may not necessarily understand the ins and outs of the scrum, even though he’s part of the scrum. In our team, it’s the hooker who talks to the ref about the scrums and Bongi must do what he normally does when he speaks to the referee.
“He’ll be our voice and he must do what he does, with the same being applicable from a playing perspective. It may look left-field from the outside, but if you speak to anyone in the team, it’s not a left-field choice.”
MBONAMBI HIGHLY VALUED AS A LEADER IN THE TEAM
Mbonambi has earned 59 Test caps since making his Springbok debut in 2016, and he will have an especially important role this weekend.
“He’s been a brilliant leader for us since 2018. He’s one of our game drivers,” Nienaber said. “He’s a no-nonsense leader, someone who leads by example by doing the hard stuff. He doesn’t mince his words and is a straight shooter.
“He’s a guy that demands respect and I often say that if there’s a person walking into a room with people having their elbows on the table and when he sits up straight, they follow suit.
“He’s got an aura about him and I’m proud of him.”
HOW THE TEAM WILL LINE UP
Springboks – 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Ande 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 (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 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
The Springbok team to face Argentina. Photo: SA Rugby website