Not all French players are negative about SA’s inclusion in Champions Cup, says Bongi Mbonambi

Sharks hooker Bonging Mbonambi in action in the United Rugby Championship

Sharks hooker Bonging Mbonambi in action in the United Rugby Championship. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

Published Dec 13, 2022


Durban — Sharks hooker Bongi Mbonambi has brushed off French star Antoine Dupont’s comments that he is uneasy at the inclusion of South African teams in the Champions Cup.

The Sharks are in Bordeaux preparing for Friday night’s round two match, and he was asked about Dupont’s comment last week that he preferred the competition when it just involved European teams.

“I don’t think all the French players are negative about us coming in,” Mbonambi said from Bordeaux.

“I have seen only one article about it, Dupont’s, and he said that with South African teams, it is no longer a European competition … whatever that means to him.

“But rugby is becoming more and more of an international sport. It is what it is, and we are here to make the best out of the competition.”

The Sharks began with a bang in the Champions Cup, beating Harlequins 39-31 in Durban.

But on Friday, it will be another challenge altogether in the frosty heartland of French rugby, especially with Bordeaux determined to get back on track after slipping up away to Gloucester in the first round.

“We have gone from 31°C heat in the Durban summer to a wintry 0°C in France, so it is a big change,” Mbonambi said.

“And any French team will be hurting after losing in the first round of the Champions Cup because it is so big for them – they have put a lot of effort into this competition for years.

“We have just finished doing a review of them, and they have a good pack giving good ball to an international class halfback pair that we played against in the Test against France in November, and they will be playing in front of their partisan home ground.”

Mbonambi is talking about the experienced scrumhalf and flyhalf partnership of Maxime Lucu and Matthieu Jalibert, who came on as a substitute pair in the second half of France’s narrow 30-26 win over the Springboks last month.

“The Bordeaux nine and 10 run their team, so it is vital that we put pressure on them at the breakdowns,” Mbonambi said.

It is also important for the Sharks to keep 15 players on the field this week, and a bashful Mbonambi said he had apologised to his teammates for the indiscretions that led to his yellow card at the weekend.

“We discussed discipline at our leadership meeting, and some tough words were spoken,” he admitted.

“On a personal note, I put my hand up and apologised to the team for my card. It is not usually my style of play and how I want to play for the Sharks.

“Regarding Ox (Nche’s) card, that was a tough call. He is not a player who tackles like that and he is usually a very good defender ...

“He got on the wrong side of the ref. But we take responsibility for the cards and will make sure it doesn’t happen again.”


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