There’s more to Nkosi than we think
On first appearances, there doesn’t seem to be much to Mziwakhe Nkosi. Average in size, he doesn’t cut an imposing figure, and his scraggly beard and prematurely greying hair – usually hidden under a baseball cap – do little to lend him gravitas by way of making him look older.
But when he talks rugby and coaching, one understands why the King Edward VII School (KES) head coach, Golden Lions Craven Week and SA Schools assistant coach is spoken of in almost hushed tones as a rising star in schoolboy coaching.
Thanks to the fact that he started coaching at the age of 19 “to earn spending money at varsity”, the law student from Diepkloof in Soweto is wise beyond his 26 years, and is part of that new breed who were basically born to coach.
Not that the economics teacher was a plodder as a player at school. Nkosi was a fullback/wing who ran a brisk 49 seconds for the 400m as a 17-yearold, and played in the same KES first team as the Stormers’ Scarra Ntubeni and the Kings’ Wandile Mjekevu.
But, at 21, he made the first of what would be many hard calls as a coach when he called time on his playing career.
“For the first three years after school, I thought I could cut it, but as time went on and the coaching bug bit and I started getting Ateams to coach at school ... it happened like that.
“I remember the day. I didn’t have a car and I was a student at that time so I had to catch two taxis each way from my flat to university and back. I also realised that if I wasn’t already a professional player at that age, it was going to take damn hard work to do it.”
Key to his confidence about taking on life as a coach was his old first-team coach Carl Spilhaus, who would not only be his mentor, but would also end up coaching with him and against him as the head coach of the Lions’ Craven Week side and Jeppe Boys High respectively.
“Carl’s influence has been massive on me,” Nkosi said. “He’s a critical thinker about the game and it sort of rubbed off on me, but I’ve also been blessed to have the innate ability to think critically about the game – so coaching comes a bit naturally to me.”
If Nkosi’s results with KES this year are anything to go by, he really is a natural.
In his first year as head coach – he began as Spilhaus’ assistant in 2013 – KES have beaten the likes of Waterkloof away (the first KES team to do so), as well as Bishops and Rondebosch, and lost just once – to Monument – with three games remaining in the season.
KES also gave Affies the hurry up, leading 16-7 at halftime when the game was called off because of lightning.
Nkosi attributes his glorious start as head coach to hard work. It’s also because he and Spilhaus have put the right structures in place at the school over the past three years.
While he obviously would have loved Affies’ scalp, he has a measured approach to these things. “I’ve been part of a team that has taken 92 points; and been part of a team that won 85-10. So, if you know both sides of the coin, your reaction to winning or losing becomes measured.
“Also, if you’re just coaching for the result, you’ll find you won’t get rewarded. Ricardo Loubscher always used to say, ‘if results were everything whether you won or lost, you were always sour’.”
Having started off coaching “Under-16 Es or Fs”, Nkosi was quick to find his feet and understand the rewards of coaching impressionable minds.
“Being involved in a school, we’ve got 17 guys at various provincial age groups. Knowing that, at the least, they’ll get a free degree out of rugby is helluva rewarding.”
Besides Spilhaus, Nkosi – a backline coach with the Lions who specialises in defence – said two other young black coaches inspired him on his journey.
“I’ve interacted and looked up to guys like [Lions SuperSport Rugby Challenge coach] Bafana Nhleko, who’s in a tough environment and was the first professional coach to make inroads at a professional union.
“Those guys – guys like Joey Mongalo – have stuck to their guns, and are wise men who made a massive impression on me and are very knowledgeable about the game. I hope to one day get an opportunity to work with them as well.”
Of the three games remaining in the season, the third and final is against Jeppe, meaning Nkosi gets a chance to measure himself against his mentor.
“I’m up against the old master, it should be interesting. It’s got the makings of a humdinger.”
RISING STAR Mziwakhe Nkosi is a breath of fresh air in South African rugby coaching