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IRON WILL

Bongi back for Sharks in United Rugby Championship derby weekend

Bongi back for Sharks in United Rugby Championship derby weekend
Bongi Mbonambi of the Sharks during the United Rugby Championship match against Munster at Kings Park on April 22, 2023 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Steve Haag Sports/Gallo Images)

Bongi Mbonambi is back in action while Wadisile Siemlane is set for a Stormers debut when the United Rugby Championship resumes this weekend.

Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi, who hasn’t played since being injured four minutes into the final of Rugby World Cup 2023, will start for the Sharks against the Stormers at King’s Park this weekend.

Mbonambi sustained knee ligament damage against the All Blacks in Paris when Shannon Frizell made a questionable tackle on the Bok hooker in the final. The Boks went on to win 12-11 and claim their fourth World Cup.

It’s a timely boost for the Sharks as their United Rugby Championship (URC) campaign has failed to launch. They are still mathematically in with a chance of making a top-eight play-off position, but they cannot afford to lose another game.

The Sharks are bottom of the 16-team standings with a single win in their first nine matches of the 2023/24 campaign. They would probably need to win every remaining game with bonus points to force their way into playoff contention. It is possible, but improbable.

Decorated centre Lukhanyo Am understands the team’s predicament but insists they won’t be holding any white flags just because of where they are on the log.

They are faring well in the secondary European club competition, the Challenge Cup, and results in that tournament is feeding confidence back into their URC campaign.

“Unfortunately, it has been a slow start for us in the league, but I am really happy with where we are at the moment,” Am said.

“The Challenge Cup can definitely kick-start our season. Our confidence is growing.

“We haven’t been doing really well in the URC, but we could almost zoom in towards the Challenge Cup. It was a new competition and a fresh focus.

“Our energy towards it has been massive. We are targeting it and we want to go all the way.

“We will take a lot of confidence out of how we have performed in that competition.

“There is definitely hope for the future. There is massive improvement.

“Even in the league games that were not going our way, we were displaying good performances. It’s just we didn’t get the results.

“Now it is starting to stick, we are starting to convert, we are starting to grow as a team. It’s really looking good for us. Hopefully, we will build and get more wins under the belt.”

Lukhanyo Am

Lukhanyo Am of the Sharks. (Photo: Steve Haag Sports/Gallo Images)

Stormer Simelane

Meanwhile, former Junior Boks star Wandisile Simelane is set for his Stormers debut after his recent move to the Cape from the Bulls.

The exciting outside back has been included on the bench for the game after impressing coach John Dobson in some recent practice games while the URC season enjoyed a pause.

“He has been outstanding. We are so excited by him,” Dobson said at a media briefing this week.

“There is so much more to him than we realise. We knew about his step, but his work rate, the way he gets off the ground, his support lines, his second touches, his backstory, his personality and his desperation to become a Springbok. All of that.

“He is someone we want to keep here for a while. We are really thrilled with him. He will definitely be involved over the next couple of weeks.

“He’s trained enough and played in the two friendlies so he’s now eligible for selection.”

Bongi Mbonambi

Bongi Mbonambi. (Photo: Steve Haag Sports/Gallo Images)

Size no problem for Nohamba

Lions halfback Sanele Nohamba is relishing his free role at the Lions, where his natural attacking gifts and desire to do things differently, are being positively harnessed by coach Ivan van Rooyen.

The Lions meet the Bulls at Ellis Park with both teams very much in the play-off mix.

For Nohamba, when he thinks back to his origins in the game, it isn’t so much a school or club that shaped him as it was the rugby environment in the Eastern Cape and a philosophy his father gave him. A philosophy that the Lions are happy to encourage.

“My dad always told me to just play what you see. If it doesn’t work, try again,” Nohamba said.

“The coaches at the Lions also give me the freedom to do that. I think the coaches would actually be more upset with me if I stayed in system rather than playing what I see. That’s what I’ve been doing. The backing of the coaches and players around me also makes it easier for me to play like that.

“Growing up in the Eastern Cape, it is a very rich rugby environment. Everyone there plays rugby, whether it’s on the streets or a field. I grew up watching my dad and my uncles playing in the village league.

“People obviously comment on my size, but I’ve never put that on myself. In modern rugby there are so many small players like Cheslin Kolbe, Faf de Klerk and others who have achieved a lot in the game. It’s always spoken about with me and I can’t shy away from that. When I meet people and they hear I play rugby they often ask, ‘How?’.

“But there are many players that came before me that were small and achieved a lot. I’m trying to do the same in a sense, but at the same time, I’m just trying to enjoy my rugby.

“Technique also helps a lot. A big guy can run at you but if you have the right technique you can always take him down. You can’t gym ankles.” DM

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