- Bongi Mbonambi has arrived in Durban just in time to help beef up a Sharks pack that the Bulls have dominated in recent big games.
- The World Cup-winning hooker was named to start on debut for his new franchise against his former team, the Bulls, on Friday.
- Sharks head coach Sean Everitt picked a formidable line-up, including Siya Kolisi, although they're missing Ox Nche and Aphelele Fassi.
Bongi Mbonambi has arrived in Durban just in time to help beef up a Sharks pack previously bullied by their United Rugby Championship Friday night opponents.
The World Cup-winning hooker was named to start on debut for his new franchise against his former team, the Bulls, at Kings Park (19:00).
Mbonambi switched allegiances in the middle of the year but was entangled in Springbok commitments before South Africa concluded their end-year tour of the UK last month.
Now, the 30-year-old from Bethlehem is ready to advance the Sharks' physical and set-piece fight against foes that dominated them in facets since Jake White arrived at Loftus.
"Having the Boks back, including Bongi, means a lot of experience is brought into the team," said Sharks head coach Sean Everitt.
"They've set good examples. They've come back prepared … and they hit the ground running when they came to training last week.
"With the extra week to prepare, Bongi is familiar with his role. He brings tremendous amounts of experience.
"We know that as an all-round hooker, he's one of the best in the world. At the same time, he brings a competitive edge to the team."
Hooker was the Sharks' weakest link in a squad drizzled with Springbok and fledgling talent.
Kerron van Vuuren (26) and Fezokuhle Mbatha (22) couldn't match up to the Bulls' lineout prowess in big matches - including two Currie Cup final losses at Loftus in 2021 - nor could they sustain a confrontational challenge.
Mbonambi, the incumbent Bok No 2, should have no such issues.
"He has fitted in well, and the scrums and lineouts have gone well this week," Everitt beamed.
"If anything, Bongi is going to motivate the youngsters around him. That's what we're looking for; we signed experienced players to pass on their info and motivate and encourage the younger players.
"He will bring a lot of value to us."
Mbonambi is sandwiched by Ntuthuko Mchunu and Thomas du Toit in a front row that, frighteningly, is missing Bok breakthrough behemoth Ox Nche for Friday's clash.
White, who has repeatedly said the Bulls would face "the Springboks" in the United Rugby Championship derby, has returned fire by starting veteran Bismarck du Plessis at hooker.
Everitt, whose squad is looking fearsome after acquiring internationals Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, OJ Noa and Ben Tapuai, was happy about the depth at his disposal.
"We've created good squad depth over the last 12 months, which was always our plan to build a base," said Everitt.
"We also knew that our Boks wouldn't be available in November, and I think it stood us in good stead.
"At the moment, there are guys on the fringes of the squad that really put their hands up, so that's pleasing for us.
"In saying that, Ox was in good form going into the Test matches, and he did well in the UK and prior to the end-year tour.
"It was a formidable front row with him, Bongi and Trevor Nyakane. Those are the type of players we will welcome back, but unfortunately, Ox is not available, which would have made it a really formidable front row if we had Ox."
15 Anthony Volmink, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Boeta Chamberlain, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi, 7 Jeandre Labuschagne, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ntuthuko Mchunu
Substitutes: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Khwezi Mona, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Reniel Hugo, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Sanele Nohamba, 22 Tito Bonilla, 23 Werner Kok
Bulls15 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 David Kriel, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Richard Kriel, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Robert Hunt, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Gerhard SteenkampSubstitutes: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Lizo Gqoboka, 19 Jacques du Plessis, 20 Sintu Manjezi, 21 Zak Burger, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Harold Vorster