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No frills mauler


Bongi Mbonambi is at the tulcrum of every scrum, winning crucial penalties for his team

The Stormers Bongi Mbonambi is tackled by Hurricanes Fraser Armstrong during the Super Rugby match at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday. Picture: Marty Melville BackpagePix

EVERY team has its unsung heroes. Players that do not necessarily grab the headlines every week, but perform their role dutifully to ensure the entire machine functions.

Bongi Mbonambi certainly comes to mind as one of those. The Stormers No 2 is not a flashy ball carrier in the Schalk Britz mould, nor does he steal the ball on the ground like a thief in the night like Malcolm Marx, but the qualities that he does indeed possess are invaluable to his team’s overall gameplay.

For all the rave reviews about the Stormers pack, and particularly their bullocking maul, it is often Mbonambi that is at the heart of the move. He is the one at the back of maul, collecting the ball, and directing the traffic in-front of him.

This does not come without doing the hard yards on training. So, when Stormers forwards coach Russell Winter speaks about how the players have been working incredibly hard over the past three weeks, and been enjoying the “contact stuff” that has been introduced, it is not hard to imagine Mbonambi leading the way.

Equally, he is at the fulcrum of every scrum the Stormers dominate, winning crucial penalties for his team and especially that hungry pack behind him.

Every hooker knows though that he is only worth the number on his back if his line-out throwing is on point. Having made a stellar contribution on the Bok end-of-year tour to Europe where he outshone Marx in this crucial department, Mbonambi’s confidence would have taken a backward step after the Loftus debacle on Super Rugby opening day.

While no line-out lost is solely the hooker’s fault, Mbonambi went back to the training ground and ensured that this primary facet of the game in recent weeks has been transformed into one of the Stormers’ major weapons. It is after all the rolling maul’s point of origin, and has resulted in Mbonambi being rewarded with a five-pointer last week against the Hurricanes.

The likeable former St Albans product is definitely enjoying this upward curve in his career, but will be looking for even more when the Stormers face the Blues on Saturday at Eden Park.

“I am happy with the way things are going. There is always room for improvement in this sport. I don’t think a player ever gets to a place where is happy with his form. I need to improve in all my areas on the field,” Mbonambi said from Auckland this week.

The fact that Scarra Ntubeni – an equally robust hooker – has been challenging Mbonambi for a starting berth all the way would also have played its part in keeping the Springbok at the top of his game.

“Competition is a good thing in any team,” he said. “You need to push each other to make each other better. Scarra and I have been playing together for the Stormers for a while, so healthy competition is always good.

Having said that, if Mbonambi continues his good form throughout the Stormers’ Super Rugby campaign, he may just be the one pushing Marx for that Bok starting berth come World Cup time later this year.