Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick and captain Bongi Mbonambi said the team were ready for what is going to be a brutal battle against the Pumas at Estadio Velez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires on Saturday in the first of three Rugby World Cup warm-up games.
The Pumas are renowned for their physicality and passion, and Stick and Mbonambi expected an even bigger challenge from the South Americans on their home patch this weekend, especially with replacement hooker Agustin Creevy set to become the first player in their history to reach 100 Test caps.
It may be a big occasion for the home side, but Stick said the Boks were equally driven to produce a quality performance as they build toward the World Cup and to make it a memorable day for Mbonambi, who will lead the national team for the first time, and replacement prop Gerhard Steenekamp, who is in line to make his Test debut.
“The important thing for us is to improve on the way we want to play and to give ourselves a strong foundation before the Rugby World Cup,” said Stick.
“There’s a lot we want to improve on, but the message is clear, we have to pitch up on the day. We are expecting a hostile game in front of a passionate crowd, so it’s going to be brutal.”
Mbonambi supported his coach’s sentiments: “It’s going to be an immense test for the team, but we’ve been preparing well this week and we’ve worked on the areas that we felt we needed to improve on.
“With Argentina playing at home in front of their passionate supporters, it’s going to be challenging game. Augustin Creevy is also playing his 100th game and they’ll want to make it special for him.”
Mbonambi was thrilled about wearing the captain’s armband and said: “Personally, this a massive milestone in my career. It’s an opportunity not many people receive, so it’s a great honour.
“Growing up I would never have imagined that I would be in this position. Some people get this honour early in their careers and others later, but it’s been a journey to get here, and my parents and family are very proud.”
The new Bok skipper said he received a special message from regular Bok captain Siya Kolisi, who is on the road to recovery after having surgery to his knee.
“Siya sent me a messaging encouraging and motivating me, and guys like Lukhanyo (Am) and Jesse (Kriel), who have been here a while, have been great, as well as Steven (Kitshoff). He may not be playing but he’s been in my ear all week and giving me advice,” said Mbonambi.
Mbonambi was calm and collected about the responsibility on his shoulders and said: “The only difference for me this week will be talking to the referee. I still have a job to do on the field, and that will be a key focus.”
Stick was proud of Mbonambi’s achievement, and he was confident that the coaches had named the right player for this big assignment.
“It was an easy call for us (to name Bongi captain),” said Stick. “He’s always been a leader in our group, and he’s vocal and leads by example on the field. There’s no doubt the team also wants to make it special for him.”
With the Springboks’ three matches away from kicking off the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, Stick said: “I don’t think we are anywhere close to the final product we want to be in the World Cup, but we are on track.”
The match kicks off at 21h10 (SA time) and will be broadcast live on SuperSport.