Bongi Mbonambi’s release from the Springbok squad for the Rugby Championship can only do good for Western Province, who are hunting a bonus-point win in their two remaining fixtures to secure a Currie Cup play-off spot.
The hooker was one of five players released by the Springboks on Monday, including Sharks wing Lwazi Mvovo, Bulls scrumhalf Rudy Paige, Lions hooker Malcolm Marx and Bulls prop Trevor Nyakane, as the Springbok management team felt that the released players will benefit from additional training and game time with their respective Currie Cup sides.
WP, who have lost three of their six matches, have been plagued by injuries and the No 2 position has been a particular problem, with Scarra Ntubeni sustaining an Achilles tendon injury against the Sharks that will keep him out for the remainder of the season and the first half of the Super Rugby competition, while Martin Ferreira and Chad Solomon are also on the injury list.
This led to WP recalling Michael Willemse, who was on loan to the Eastern Province Kings for the Currie Cup and featured for Province in the Currie Cup qualifiers, to fill the void at hooker.
Willemse’s first Premier Division appearance for Province this season was against the Golden Lions. But it was a poor one as the Cape side lost four of their own line-out throws, as Willemse and replacement hooker Neil Rautenbach failed to hit their targets at Ellis Park.
And against the Pumas this past weekend, there was again an odd line-out throw or two by Willemse that went awry. So, Bongi’s return can be a massive boost for WP in a crucial area. Prior to his inclusion in the Springbok squad for the three-Test series against Ireland, Mbonambi mostly started ahead of Ntubeni, who had been struggling to regain his form following continuous halts in momentum due to injury.
Mbonambi, although hot and cold at times, has generally produced decent performances for the Stormers this year, and with the team travelling to Kimberley to face Griquas tomorrow night, the boost at hooker couldn’t have come at a better time.
The northern side came short against the Blue Bulls at Loftus at the weekend, and the hosts used the line-out as a superb attacking base as they hammered the visitors 57-20.
And if Province can get their line-outs in top shape, they can do the same against the fourth-placed Griquas.
Mbonambi is WP's best bet at hooker, and if he can add some stability to the set-piece, then John Dobson’s men will have a greater attacking platform to use to their advantage.