Springboks

Hooker conundrum for Boks

2016-08-11 14:28
Allister Coetzee (Getty)

Johannesburg - Springbok coach Allister Coetzee sits with a hooker conundrum as he prepares his squad ahead of what promises to be a very tough Rugby Championship this year.

According to the SuperSport website, Lions hooker Malcolm Marx’s performance has literally broken down the door, replacing Scarra Ntubeni in the squad that will take on the best sides in the Southern Hemisphere this year.

And while there has been some criticism of Adriaan Strauss’ performances in both Super Rugby and in the Irish series, as Bok captain he is assured of his place for the upcoming tournament, but will know that he has competition in his position once again.

To think that a top player like Bismarck du Plessis isn’t even spoken about at the moment despite some exceptional performances for Montpellier shows the depth at hooker that Coetzee currently has, but Marx will have to use the opportunities he gets when they come around if he is to move into the top two hookers in the squad.

For one, Bongi Mbonambi hasn’t been given an opportunity to do anything right or wrong with just three minutes of rugby in three test matches, and surely needs to be backed to show his worth in the squad.

Mbonambi isn’t a flashy player, but he is a workhorse, and given his solid performances for the Stormers in Super Rugby, he deserves some time to settle into things in the Green and Gold, and to get enough opportunities to prove himself.

While Marx is the name on everyone’s lips at the moment, the Lions hooker may well have to wait his turn as he joins the Bok squad Thursday after a sensational season of rugby where his Lions’ team was the feel-good story of the rugby year thus far.

But Coetzee hinted that while Marx has been a form player that has forced his way into the squad, his basics do need some work, as was witnessed in the Lions lineout struggling in the final of the Super Rugby competition.

Marx is exceptional in the loose and fits into the Lions’ game plan very well, but at test level, where margins are smaller, his basics need to be better.

Marx’s stats in Super Rugby see him hitting in the mid 80s in terms of percentages, while Strauss’ lineout success is in the 90 percent bracket, a standard that the Boks have set themselves that is a non-negotiable at this level.

Coetzee said he was looking forward to working with Marx in the squad and described him as a player with incredible potential.

“First and foremost we still need to look at Malcolm in the squad. The fact that he has talent is without a doubt. It just shows how things work in life. You wouldn’t have known if Malcolm would have played as well as he would this season, if Robbie Coetzee would have been fit – Robbie was in the Springbok training group. But he has taken his opportunity and I’m very happy we have him,” Coetzee explained.

“There are different types of hookers – you have a setpiece hooker and then you have a hooker who is very good in the loose. We are fortunate that we have Adriaan with us who is a bit of both and has been proven in Super Rugby that he is the most successful lineout thrower – not because he is the captain – but that is what is needed at test match rugby. You need to hit the high 90s in terms of set phase. And where tries are scored from in setphase, is still lineouts – that’s the highest stat. Sometimes you have a hooker who performs well in loose and broken play but when it comes to set piece he is not quite there yet.”

Coetzee also confirmed that Mbonambi is very much still the second hooker and that it would be wrong to judge him on his limited appearances at this level.

“Bongi has really done nothing wrong. I think he has done more right than wrong in three minutes – and not just to give him his cap, but rather to play a defensive role in a tight test match. As we discussed the captain made that call at the time, we were under the cosh and we needed to get Bongi on the field to do what he needed to do,” Coetzee said, adding that he had releases Ntubeni to Western Province for some much needed game time.

“Its six games, and that is how we will look at it. In six games certain players will get opportunities and Malcolm maybe will get his opportunity to see what he can do at test match level. Without a doubt he has the potential to do well. The thing with Scarra Ntubeni – I always said I would definitely look at form, although it isn’t the only thing that you should look at.

“Scarra needs to play, he has been hit by injuries and has been on the bench, and he hasn’t had the opportunity to play - and a tight forward needs to play rugby to improve.”

Strauss is in the hotseat for now and as captain needs to lead from the front. But Marx’s arrival means that the rivalry will be ratcheted up, and Mbonambi and he will want to avoid a situation similar to the John Smit-Bismarck du Plessis conundrum that plagued the Boks since the 2007 World Cup win.

Read the story on SuperSport

Read more on:    springboks  |  allister coetzee  |  rugby
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