Stormers head coach John Dobson has admitted they were ‘caught by surprise’ by the Sharks’ announcement of signing Bongi Mbonambi, but says they did everything to keep the Springbok hooker.
On Tuesday midday, the Sharks confirmed that following a long period of speculation, Mbonambi had agreed to join the Durban club from the Stormers.
As reported by this website towards the end of April, Mbonambi will follow in the footsteps of fellow Roc Nation representative Siya Kolisi in switching coastal franchises.
He is expected to link up with the Sharks from 1 November.
Seems someone got a little carried away over in Durban: Bongi Mbonambi will be leaving Cape Town when his contract is up in November and will give his all for the blue and white until then when not playing for the Boks. #still9 😉 https://t.co/C9KPzLEyMt
— DHL Stormers (@THESTORMERS) June 8, 2021
Speaking during an online media conference on Tuesday afternoon, Dobson explained why he felt the Stormers had done everything in their power to keep the 2019 World Cup winner in the Cape.
‘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,’ Dobson said. ‘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.
‘I’m absolutely convinced we did our best to keep Bongi, in terms of financially and in terms of our 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.’
Looking at the positives, Dobson reasoned that Mbonambi’s departure could open up an opportunity for the other hookers at the club, including another Springbok in Scarra Ntubeni and youngster Andre-Hugo Venter.
‘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- or 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.’
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Meanwhile, Dobson also confirmed that wing Edwill van der Merwe, who has been in incredible form during the Rainbow Cup SA, has received an offer from the Lions, which the 25-year-old will likely take up.
‘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.
‘We made Edwill an offer a few months ago, just before he played these three [Rainbow Cup SA] 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.
‘Over the same period of contracting, we have got the likes of Seabelo Senatla, Sergeal Petersen and Leolin Zas already under contract. We also have 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.’
Photo: EPA/YOAN VALAT