Currie Cup

Scarra v Bongi: Special edge

2014-10-17 15:24
Scarra Ntubeni (Gallo Images)
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 exchanges.

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.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    blue bulls  |  wp  |  currie cup  |  pretoria  |  cape town  |  rugby

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