Bongi Mbonambi during the South African national rugby team media conference at Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo Nishi-Shinjuku on October 15 2019. Picture: STEVE HAAG/GALLO IMAGES
Bongi Mbonambi during the South African national rugby team media conference at Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo Nishi-Shinjuku on October 15 2019. Picture: STEVE HAAG/GALLO IMAGES

Tokyo — At first he was hesitant but then Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi spelt out why coach Rassie Erasmus has made the team hard to beat again.

For various reasons‚ Springbok rugby was a mire when Erasmus took over in 2018. He lost his first Test against Wales‚ who the Boks meet in Yokohama in a Rugby World Cup semifinal on Sunday‚ but the team has improved. This year they lost just once in 10 Tests.

“That’s a very tough question‚” noted Mbonambi. “Personally‚ Rassie has made a massive difference‚ not just to the Springbok team but a lot of decisions that have influenced the whole nation.

“I truly believe that he is the sort of coach that has a very honest opinion of each player‚ and will tell it to you honestly.

“He is not the type of coach that will maybe do things behind closed doors. He does it openly‚ in front of the whole team‚ and everyone knows about it. The players have more respect for someone like that‚ who is more honest and open‚ and tells them directly what he wants and needs from them.

“If you have a coach like that‚ you have more freedom to express yourself and be yourself. He doesn’t put you in a box‚ and that’s what has been the outstanding thing in the team this year.”

The players have certainly responded to Erasmus, who turned 47 recently.

They are better at the basics and because that has become routine it has made them a tough team to beat.

Asked about the effect of Erasmus’s decision to make Siya Kolisi captain, Mbonambi said: “To me and everyone in this team‚ it doesn’t really matter about your skin colour or where you come from. Rassie will pick a guy who is there to work hard and does the job perfectly well, and you earn your way into this team.

“Comparing him to previous coaches‚ it was like you pick someone who has been there for years‚ even though we can see he is not pulling his weight. Now‚ you get picked by the work that you do and how you execute it.”

Mbonambi is an example of a player who has been rewarded for his good form.

He started the international season behind Malcolm Marx in the hookers’ pecking order but started the past few big games the Boks have been involved in.

Both hookers have excelled at their primary functions and their 100% success rate in the line-out in their five World Cup matches so far is staggering.

“It comes down to us being all aligned and all know what the plan is. You have guys like Lood [de Jager]‚ Eben [Etzebeth]‚ RG [Snyman] and Franco Mostert taking ownership of the line-out.

“Our job as hookers is just to get a good relationship with the jumpers and know you are an international hooker in the Springbok jersey.

“You have to lift your standards and keep them up there. We have to work together as a pack and we always push each other at every training session. When it comes to the game‚ it just comes down to execution.”

Mbonambi‚ who left the field in the 36th minute against Japan last Sunday‚ said he went off as a precautionary measure.

“It was just my hamstring that was feeling a bit tight‚ from the cramps obviously‚” he said. “They made a medical call not to risk it and carry on. But at the moment‚ I am feeling 100%.”