Cape Town - When Bongi Mbonambi made his Springbok debut against Ireland in 2016, he was somewhat of a surprise inclusion in the national side.

Somewhat of an unknown quantity, Mbonambi was not even the clear first-choice hooker at the Stormers during that time with Scarra Ntubeni being picked for most Super Rugby matches.

Mbonambi, though, was given his shot and he has never looked back.

He has now racked up a sizeable 33 Test matches since, but even throughout the last four years he has found himself first behind Adriaan Strauss and then Malcolm Marx in the Bok pecking order.

On Sunday in Tokyo, however, he will wear the No 2 shirt in a Rugby World Cup quarter-final when the Boks take on tournament hosts Japan.

His rise to the top has been remarkable, and despite Marx's global dominance over the years, nobody can argue that Mbonambi has earned his.

The 28-year-old brings abundant energy, he is accurate at lineout time, he is solid defensively, is a menace at scrum time and he has steered the Springbok rolling maul expertly throughout the tournament so far.

Those are the qualities that have Erasmus hand Mbonambi a start on Sunday, while the Boks can then boast the luxury of having a player with Marx's natural ability coming off the bench.

"They are both brilliant hookers, and Schalk Brits to add to that – we have three world-class hookers," Erasmus explained after naming his side on Thursday.

"The way we want to play Japan, especially trying to keep up with the pace that they play, Bongi is definitely a more physical, brutal, scrummaging, in-your-face hooker.

"Malcolm is very much in the same mould, and both will get close to 40 minutes.

But Bongi in the tighter first half, and if the game opens up a little bit more in the second half, Malcolm in the looser second half would benefit the team by selecting it in that way."

It is another sign of the strength of this Springbok bench, with Erasmus having opted with a 6/2 forwards/backs split that will see the likes of Marx, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert and Steven Kisthoff adding muscle top proceedings.

"The match 23 is probably our best, in-form, current fit players, which is why I went with the six-two split (on the bench)," Erasmus said.

"To nullify the space around the tight forwards, with the pace that they have. And the third one is to play towards our strengths, which is physical rugby, set-phases, mauling, scrums.

"We will definitely try to play the game at our pace, and they will try to play the game at their pace.

"That will be a tactical battle, and it's tough for me to say now who will be able to enforce that. But that will be a really big battle from the coaching staff, and the 15 players on the field."

Kick-off on Sunday is at 12:15 (SA time).

Teams:

Japan

TBA

South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Substitutes: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Francois Louw, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn

- Compiled by Lloyd Burnard