Cape Town – There will be shades of Bryan
Habana 2009 when Bongi Mbonambi runs out at Newlands for the Blue Bulls in
Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final against Western Province.
He will be in the same situation of the
legendary Springbok wing five years ago, knowing that he will be taking on the
Cape-based arch-rivals for the last time in the colours of the team from Loftus
before switching allegiance to them shortly afterwards.
Bulls hooker Mbonambi signed for WP and the
Stormers earlier this season - although the deal was always that it would be
after completion of the Currie Cup - following three years of loyalty to the
Pretoria side (and involvement in their youth structures since 2008).
Habana’s slightly more high-profile change
of franchise was similarly already known before he stepped onto the Newlands
turf for the semi between the sides five years back, although he produced a typically
professional, full-blooded performance for the Bulls as they won a nail-biter
21-19 to advance to a final they won (36-24 against the Cheetahs, with Habana
dotting twice in his swansong).
Of course Habana, whose direct wing
opponent in the semi was Gio Aplon, was joining the Stormers/WP as a genuinely
“superstar” signing at the time, whereas the 23-year-old Mbonambi is not nearly
yet so established as a first-class presence, has not played any Test rugby,
and certainly isn’t guaranteed first-choice status in the No 2 jersey.
But that is perhaps what makes his starting
presence for the Bulls on Saturday (17:00 kick-off) especially interesting: he
will be up against Scarra Ntubeni, with whom he will soon be vying for the
berth in the Newlands fold.
Mbonambi may also competing next season
with veteran Tiaan Liebenberg, a five-cap Springbok, for the shirt although the
32-year-old’s various injury woes, including a presently troublesome back, must
be worrying his employers.
More immediately, though, both Mbonambi and
the conveniently fit-again Ntubeni will simply be intent on ensuring onward
passage to next week’s showpiece for their respective sides, while quietly
mindful of their quest for “main man” bragging rights in the same camp shortly.
Their vital statistics are not dissimilar:
both are 23, certainly among the premier young hookers on the domestic scene
and with best years probably still ahead of them, and boast physical stats
hardly light years apart: Ntubeni has a slight weight edge at 103kg to 99kg,
and Mbonambi is slightly taller at 1.80m to 1.75m.
Ntubeni hails from East London whereas
Mbonambi is Bethlehem-born.
The former has already sampled some senior
Bok activity as he was among the squad for the 2013 end-of-year tour without
seeing match service, although the latter can at least boast that he played for
South Africa at junior level - he represented the Baby Boks at the 2011 IRB
Junior World Championship in Italy.
Both men pride themselves in their mobility
and work ethic, and may take different advantages into the keenly-awaited
semi-final: Ntubeni enjoys the free-spirited style of rugby WP are currently
playing, and his team are most pundits’ favourites, whilst Mbonambi could benefit
from the greater bulk around him in the Bulls front five during the tighter
It’s an intriguing battle in the position
... with that extra bit of spice to it until the inevitable handshake or
embrace at the final whistle on Saturday which will simultaneously signal their
status as comrades-in-waiting.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing