Bongi Mbonambi is the second high-profile Stormer to be migrating up the coast to the Sharks since American investors took over, and he’s also the second player who is represented by Roc Nation to make the move to Durban.
Coincidence? Who knows?
But when Stormers coach John Dobson spoke after the Sharks announcement about the Springbok World Cup winning hooker’s decision to join national captain Siya Kolisi in the sub-tropics, he did hint, without actually saying anything, that there were things he couldn’t say. Which gives us pause to wonder.
“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,” said Dobson. “I am confident we did our absolute best to keep Bongi. Both financially and from a team environment perspective. 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.”
All of which leads us to a question — when it comes to their most recent high-profile signings, have the Sharks targeted players who they really need in their system and should be paying top dollar for their services? Or to put it differently, what players do the Sharks really need?
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Okay, as he is a Springbok tight forward, and that is an area of weakness, Mbonambi is a better purchase than Kolisi. From a marketing point of view, securing the Springbok captain might be a bit of a coup, but from a playing aspect, the Sharks did have a plethora of good loose-forwards, certainly when it comes to the flank position, already on their books.
Sharks coach Sean Everitt said at the end of last season that he would always choose a fetcher at No. 6, but the first time he did that since Kolisi’s arrival was when the Bok captain wasn’t available this past weekend.
James Venter, recruited to the Sharks from the Lions because he fitted the mould they were looking for and who was so good for them in the last global Super Rugby season, wore the No. 6 against the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg. Dylan Richardson is injured at the moment but he was outstanding on the open-side flank for the Sharks in 2020/2021. Again, a player in the fetcher mould they have espoused to since Everitt became coach. Did the Sharks really need to bolster that position?
If the Sharks need a loose-forward, it is a Juan Smith or Andre Venter type No. 7 who can bring some of the grunt in the tight-loose that they may have missed a bit since the underrated Tyler Paul decided to go to Japan. A player who can also add considerably to the Sharks’ line-out options, where they often struggle because of a lack of variation as much as anything else.
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Funnily enough, it is interesting to note that the man who left Durban for the Cape this year, the Sharks’ recent young player of the year Evan Roos, is going to be considered an important extra line-out option, in addition to his other attributes, for the Stormers going forward.
In Mbonambi’s case you could argue that the Sharks could do with the addition of his hard-edged experience to the front-row. But young Fez Mbatha is a highly promising hooker, and there are a lot of good things to say about Dan Jooste, who moved to the Sharks from the Cape during lockdown but has had recent game opportunities limited by injury. And they also have Kerron van Vuuren.
Let’s not forget either that the aforementioned Richardson, though some consider him to be a better flank, is still rated by Everitt as a potential future success as a hooker. He told us that was why he selected Richardson as a hooker during the preparations series before he was injured.
Given where the Sharks have struggled, meaning lack of depth at prop, shouldn’t the big money and the big signings be made and spent in that position? It is understood that an offer was made to Stormers Bok Frans Malherbe but he turned it down, and experienced veteran Lourens Adriaanse is on his way to Durban.
Everitt knows all this for he hasn’t been secretive about the direction he is heading in, and that is what makes the two most recent big Sharks signings seem so out of kilter with the vision that was sold to us during the course of 2020.