Super Rugby

Bongi and Bulls: A case of unfinished business?

Bongi Mbonambi (Gallo Images)
Bongi Mbonambi (Gallo Images)

Weekend reports suggesting that Bongi Mbonambi aspires to returning to his initial first-class stomping ground (2012-14, and a bit before that at age-group level) of Loftus caught me just a little by surprise.

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The 29-year-old is in his sixth season with the Stormers/Western Province since shifting southward in time for the start of the 2015 Super Rugby campaign, and his spell in the Newlands fold has indisputably seen his stocks soar ... to the point that he had eclipsed much-trumpeted muscleman Malcolm Marx to Springbok starting rights at hooker toward the memorable business end of RWC 2019.

Increasingly reliable at his lineout throw-in chore, a dynamo in general play and perhaps the best maul-controlling No 2 in global rugby, Mbonambi is also part of a front row in Cape Town - his props being likely Test first-choice pair for the foreseeable future Steven Kitshoff and Frans Malherbe - that is a vital string to the Stormers' bow.

He was some way down the Bok pecking order, remember, when he made the move to Newlands; the hookers in Heyneke Meyer’s 2015 World Cup squad later that year were Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss and Schalk Brits, for example.

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In his final season on the Bulls' books in 2014, Mbonambi was simply regarded as another competitor for the specialist berth with the likes of Bandise Maku and Callie Visagie, and the news that the franchise had snapped up seasoned international Strauss from the Cheetahs for the next campaign (2015) was probably the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of his decision to leave Pretoria.

I always felt, too, that the tenacious, low-centre-of-gravity player pointedly appeared to reserve some his fieriest early showings in Stormers (or WP) colours for derbies against the Bulls, the team he had turned his back on.

Stormers head coach John Dobson was at pains over the weekend to dispel, to Sport24 colleague Lloyd Burnard, that Mbonambi had a (rumoured) release clause in his contract after the current, now heavily interrupted and threatened Super Rugby season - and that he was dutybound on paper to stay on board at Newlands until late 2021.

But he did add that "we understand there will always be interest in him".

Clearly, the major Bulls revival quest - spearheaded by Jake White and within a Loftus boardroom set-up now unrecognisable from the one Mbonambi had left several years ago - has at very least triggered Mbonambi’s interest for a return in either the short- or medium term.

He may feel that he somehow has unfinished business at Loftus: remember that he comes from highveld roots in many respects as he was born in Bethlehem, educated in Pretoria (both schooling and then at TUT) and learnt his rugby trade on the hard, fast pitches of the northern regions of South Africa ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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