• Closer look: Stormers’ options at hooker

    All will not be lost for the Stormers even if Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi opts to leave Cape Town, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

    When it comes to the professional arm of WP Rugby, there have been some much-needed encouraging signs in recent weeks.

    At the end of March, Frans Malherbe opted to sign a contract extension with Western Province Professional Rugby (WPPR) despite significant interest from Japan.

    Malherbe’s extension followed shortly after up-and-coming props Leon Lyons, Sazi Sandi and Neethling Fouche all committed their futures to the Stormers.

    Damian Willemse has also recommitted to the Cape side, while another World Cup winner in prop Steven Kitshoff is set to be named as the Stormers’ captain as he finalises details around a new contract.

    Add to this the three-year extension agreed to by hooker Scarra Ntubeni, and it’s become clear that the mass player exodus some predicted will not be materialising despite some of the off-field issues related to the union’s amateur arm.

    READ: Why Malherbe opted against big-money Japan move

    Despite the series of good-news re-signings for the Stormers to celebrate, there is still no clarity around the future of Mbonambi, who is believed to still be weighing up his options.

    A few weeks ago, the 30-year-old was believed to have indicated a clear intent to stay with the Stormers, but he has since been linked with the prospect of becoming the next rugby star to join the well-known Roc Nation Sports agency.

    It’s led to growing suspicion that he could be set to follow in Siya Kolisi’s footsteps by making the move up the east coast to the Durban-based Sharks.

    A decision may only be finalised after the British & Irish Lions tour, but it’s understandably prudent for the Stormers to conduct some due diligence in the meantime as they prepare for the possibility of moving forward without Mbonambi.

    And this planning has been ambitious.

    Serious consideration has turned to exploring the possibility of luring either Japan-based Malcolm Marx or Bordeaux’s Joseph Dweba to Cape Town next year should the need arise to find a senior replacement for Mbonambi.

    It’s merely exploratory at the moment as Marx is on a considerable salary with his Japanese club, while Dweba is keen to expedite his progression after a quiet start to his club career in France. Both are also only expected to be available in July next year.

    For now, though, the Stormers will have the services of Mbonambi for the PRO14 Rainbow Cup before he will then join the Springbok squad for the Lions series, with international commitments sure to take up most of his time from June onwards.

    In the interim, the Stormers will continue to explore their options, while also testing their depth.

    Before too long, opportunities can be expected for the prodigiously talented 19-year-old Andre-Hugo Venter, son of former Bok great Andre.

    Venter Jnr, who played for WP U21 last year, has caught the eye most recently in the Varsity Cup for Maties, where he has scored five tries in the first three rounds.

    There is also JJ Kotze, who has featured for WP U21, Maties U21 (Young Guns) and for the SA Rugby Academy last year, while the more experienced Chad Solomon provides further depth.

    When Mbonambi is on Bok duty, though, Ntubeni should remain firmly in possession of the No 2 jersey. He remains one of the most underrated players in South Africa, boasting accuracy at the lineouts, robust scrummaging and often unexpected mobility.

    So, as much as the Stormers want to keep Mbonambi on their books, there will hardly be cause for panic if they have to contend with a lamentable, but not wholly unexpected, player departure.

    Photo: EPA/Nic Bothma via BackpagePix

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    Craig Lewis