Rainbow Cup

Stormers coach Dobson on losing Bok star Mbonambi: 'We did everything we could to keep him'

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Bongi Mbonambi. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)
Bongi Mbonambi. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)
  • Stormers coach John Dobson concedes they did all they could to retain the services of Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi and winger Edwill van der Merwe.
  • Mbonambi and Van der Merwe will leave the Stormers in November to join the Sharks and Lions respectively.
  • Dobson adds they'll also be making "a couple of announcements" in the next while regarding new signings.

Stormers coach John Dobson says they did all they could do to retain the services of Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi and promising winger Edwill van der Merwe.

The Sharks confirmed on Tuesday that they had signed Mbonambi, ending months of speculation over the World Cup winner's future.

He will join his new team from 1 November, linking up with national captain Siya Kolisi, who recently also made the move from Cape Town to Durban.

Dobson also confirmed the report that speedster Van der Merwe, who has been in red-hot form in the Rainbow Cup SA, was likely to join the Lions later this year.

"We were caught a bit by surprise by the Sharks announcement on Bongi today because normally we sort of work together with them on that. We've been dealing with Bongi over the last five or six months... [but] there are other considerations in play which I don't want to go into," Dobson told reporters in a virtual media briefing on Tuesday.

"I'm absolutely convinced we did our best to keep Bongi, in terms of financially and in terms of environment. When we went to a nice camp in Wilderness in March, he said how happy he was here, but then other things came into play and I'm not going to disclose Bongi's personal reasons."

While Dobson would not go into more detail, it is understood that the 30-year-old Mbonambi is also on the books of sports management company Roc Nation and was always destined to follow Kolisi to Durban.

Roc Nation is part of the New York-based consortium which bought a controlling interest in the Sharks earlier this year.

"We knew he was going to go to the Sharks," Dobson continued. "We've got some plans around it, and I'm not saying this because of post-justification [but] we've got two of the four Springbok hookers and it is hard to manage. A guy like Scarra (Ntubeni) has worked incredibly hard... he got his weight down, got himself into really good shape... so with two 30, 31-year-old hookers both in the Springbok squad, maybe in some way [Mbonambi's departure] does create some more opportunity.

"Of course, I would liked to have kept Bongi but we certainly did our very best. I've got no doubt that there was zero element of push from our side, we did everything we could to keep him. We even offered him a sabbatical if he wanted to go and earn money in Japan. But [he left] for reasons beyond our control."

Meanwhile, Afrikaans newspaper Rapport indicated over the weekend that Van der Merwe would further his career in Johannesburg from November.

Dobson wasn't sure if the 25-year-old had already put pen to paper at the Lions but conceded that the player would leave.

"We've had Edwill in our system for five years, but he hasn't played a lot. He's been absolutely brilliant in the last while. He's got an offer from the Lions which he intends to accept, if he hasn't accepted already," Dobson said.

Van der Merwe made headlines in recent weeks and was superb once more against the Bulls in Pretoria last Friday, bagging a brace of tries despite his side going down 31-27.

"We made Edwill an offer a few months ago, just before he played these three (Rainbow Cup) games… and we even sharpened the offer up before he played these three games where he played so well... and he was considering that, but there are some personal reasons. I think his attorney girlfriend has articles in Joburg. He also wants to play overseas at some stage and to get that visa you need to start 75% of the games in PRO14 rugby," Dobson said.

Dobson noted that the Stormers already boasted several promising wingers and couldn't guarantee Van der Merwe game time.

"Over the same period of contracting we have got the likes of Seabelo Senatla, Sergeal Petersen and Leolin Zas already under contract... and Angelo Davids, who we think is going to be a real star. So, it's impossible then for me to say to Edwill 'you can get your visa because you'll start 75% of our games'.

"I'm genuinely pleased for the way it's worked out for him, in terms of how well he's playing. It is a blow to lose him because it would have been a selection headache."

The coach added that both Mbonambi and Van der Merwe would leave with the union's blessings.

"We had really good experiences with both guys. You're not going to retain everybody you want and we'll be making a couple of announcements ourselves within the next couple of months... of some players to add to our squad that we've been working on for the last while."

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