There’s more to Nkosi than we think

CityPress - - Sport - SIMNIKIWE XABANISA sports@city­press.co.za

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.”

PHOTO: PETRI OESCHGER / GALLO IM­AGES

RIS­ING STAR Mzi­wakhe Nkosi is a breath of fresh air in South African rugby coach­ing

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