Spare a thought for 'nearly-man' Scarra

2016-06-22 13:28
Scarra Ntubeni (Gallo)

Cape Town - Scarra Ntubeni's collection of Springbok training gear must be pretty impressive. 

He has been part of three squads since 2013, but now looks some way away from making his international debut.

Things change so quickly.

Ntubeni was part of the 2013 squad that traveled to the northern hemisphere on an end-of-year tour under Heyneke Meyer, but he did not feature in any of the Tests against France, Scotland and Wales. 

Then, in 2015, he came agonisingly close to booking his ticket to the Rugby World Cup. 

Meyer, backing experience, opted instead for Saracens-based Schalk Brits as his third-choice hooker and Ntubeni was cut at the final hurdle. 

Fast-forward a few months to the dawn of the Allister Coetzee era, and there was suddenly a renewed sense of optimism for players like Ntubeni. 

This was a fresh start, and the relationship the 25-year-old had shared with the latest Springbok coach at Newlands stood him in good stead ahead of the ongoing Ireland series. 

Ntubeni was named in the original 31-man squad that would do battle over three Tests against the Irish.

But, when Adriaan Strauss was named captain, it became a straight shootout between Ntubeni and his Stormers team-mate Bongi Mbonambi for the back-up hooker position. 

Two years ago, that choice would have been a no-brainer, but Mbonambi has come into his own since making the move from Pretoria to Cape Town. 

With Ntubeni struggling to find full fitness throughout 2015 and also at the start of 2016, Mbonambi was given a real crack. 

His physicality and relatively consistent lineout throwing quickly won him the trust of coach Robbie Fleck, and the stats reveal that Mbonambi has now played 640 minutes of Super Rugby this season to Ntubeni's 300. 

On match sharpness alone it would have been difficult for Coetzee to favour Ntubeni over Mbonambi for Ireland, and the coach made what was probably the logical choice. 

It was cruel that, in the build-up to the first Test when the squad was camped in Stellenbosch, Bok management made Ntubeni available for a media interview. 

The scrum of hungry journalists attacked, encouraging the soft-spoken Ntubeni to talk about finally getting his Springbok chance. 

Of course, that chance still hasn't come. 

With Strauss having played all 160 minutes of the first two Tests, Mbonambi has also been a spectator. 

Coetzee hasn't been in a position yet where he can give his big-guns a rest, and he clearly values having his captain on the field when things are tight. 

There are mumblings that Bismarck du Plessis, now done with a highly successful season in France, will be considered for this year's Rugby Championship. 

That places Mbonambi in danger of disappearing out of the mix, while the highly-rated Malcolm Marx from the Lions is also putting his hand up with some big performances this year. 

It means that there are potentially four hookers ahead of Ntubeni in the current Springbok pecking order, and that debut now looks substantially further away than it did less than a month ago. 

The obvious advice for Ntubeni is to prove his worth when Super Rugby resumes at the beginning of July. 

The Stormers have a tour to Australia that could make or break their season, though the Rebels and the Force hardly seem the toughest opposition. 

The concern for Ntubeni will be just how much Super Rugby game time he gets over the remainder of the season. 

Mbonambi will be well-rested and might have a Bok cap to his name by the time he returns to Stormers training. His confidence will be sky-high and it is hard to see Fleck leaving him out. 

Test caps are never dished out, and nobody knows that more than Ntubeni. 

He is a player who has always had a good head on his shoulders and he will keep working hard, but coming so close so many times without the reward has to have some kind of impact. 

The say that good things come to those who wait, and right now it looks like Ntubeni could be waiting a long, long time. 


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