Gqoboka liv­ing the Bok dream

The true Spring­bok story will emerge from ru­ral ar­eas

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - VATA NGOBENI

The Spring­bok fairy­tale has al­ways been made out to be one of a rugby prodigy that hails from the many cen­tury old rugby schools around the coun­try and from a fam­ily rich in sport­ing his­tory.

That has been the story over the decades from the dark and im­moral days of seg­re­ga­tion to the modern day pro­fes­sional era where your fam­ily name, school, and to a cer­tain ex­tent priv­i­lege, re­main the step­ping stone to wear­ing the Green and Gold.

But once in a while comes a player who re­minds us that the true Spring­bok story is not one green and gold brick road paved from birth. In­stead it is the com­ing to life of a dream that many in ru­ral South Africa never thought pos­si­ble.

One such Spring­bok fairy­tale is the rise of prop Lizo Gqoboka from be­ing a com­plete stranger to the game six years ago to now stand­ing on the verge of be­ing the first Spring­bok to come from the ru­ral town of Mount Frere in the for­mer Transkei.

In fact, rugby was never part of Gqoboka’s life plans af­ter com­plet­ing his ma­tric at Nta­bankulu High School and em­bark­ing on a life chang­ing jour­ney to Dur­ban to study.

He stum­bled upon rugby when a friend, Zekheth­elo Shange, asked him to come along to train­ing at Col­le­gians in Dur­ban.

In a mat­ter of six years, Gqoboka started play­ing club rugby, moved to Port El­iz­a­beth to be part of the East­ern Prov­ince Kings, signed with the Bulls and now stands on the pin­na­cle of any rugby player’s dreams.

“I’m just very ex­cited and it is a huge hon­our for me to be part of this group and to rep­re­sent my coun­try,” Gqoboka said.

“I just look back and see a beau­ti­ful pic­ture and I see the hand of God be­cause I re­alise how tough it is to make it even if you start at a young age. For me to be able to be play­ing at this level af­ter just six years is re­ally a bless­ing. I started lik­ing rugby be­cause I was play­ing for fun and at that stage was just fo­cused on my stud­ies. The more I played the more the love grew and the be­lief. It was not an easy jour­ney, I had to make big de­ci­sions along the way but it is all worth it now.”

The 27-year-old found rugby by chance but he was born to play the game with his 115kilo­gram and 1.83me­tre frame which is al­most the ideal size for an in­ter­na­tional prop.

While many hours with for­mer Spring­boks Rob­bie Kemp­son and Gary Botha have helped sharpen Gqoboka’s tech­ni­cal abil­ity at loose­head prop, it is his raw tal­ent as a rugby player that caught the eye of for­mer Spring­bok coach Heyneke Meyer three years ago when he was called up to a na­tional team camp, and the very rea­son why he could de­pose his rugby hero, Tendai Mtawarira, in the Spring­bok team to play against France.

Gqoboka’s scrum­ming abil­ity has im­proved im­mensely since join­ing the Bulls at the end of 2015, and while he has had to play mu­si­cal chairs with Pierre Schoe­man in Su­per Rugby and in the Cur­rie Cup sides, he con­tin­ued to stand head and shoul­ders above his team­mates.

It has been Gqoboka’s hu­mil­ity and pa­tience that have made him ap­pre­ci­ate and make good of the op­por­tu­ni­ties given to him, and while he has the ut­most re­spect for Mtawarira, he won’t hold back when the op­por­tu­nity to play ahead of the Sharks prop comes along.

“In life we have dif­fer­ent jour­neys and I think Tendai is a leg­end of the game. He has the most caps as a loose­head prop in that jersey and one needs to re­spect that. I re­spect him as a player and still look up to him but when my time comes then my time comes,” Gqoboka said.

The new faces in the Spring­bok squad and their sto­ries of hope might just be ex­actly what the Spring­bok team needs to re­gain their con­fi­dence af­ter a dis­as­trous sea­son last year.

Gqoboka is op­ti­mistic that the Spring­boks will rise again and be­come a force in world rugby in the same way his life jour­ney has been one of ris­ing from the ashes and be­liev­ing that his once mighty Bulls team will again be­come Su­per Rugby cham­pi­ons and be the spine of the na­tional team.

“We’ve had a tough sea­son at the Bulls but I be­lieve that all sea­sons are nec­es­sary for the build­ing of our char­ac­ter. I’m look­ing at the big­ger pic­ture and we have a young group and we are learn­ing ev­ery week. We may be los­ing in re­sults but we are gain­ing a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence and learn­ing at this level. In a year or two I be­lieve the play­ers will go on to win Su­per Rugby and there will be a lot of Spring­boks com­ing out of that group as well.”

As Gqoboka pre­pares to be­come a Spring­bok, it will be a mo­ment that changes his life and that of his fam­ily.

But it will also mark the mo­ment that the true Spring­bok story changes from the well-man­i­cured fields of colo­nial built schools and Spring­bok blood cours­ing through the veins of those born to be Spring­boks, to the ru­ral ar­eas where the real Spring­boks don’t speak a word of English or Afrikaans and will only stum­ble on the game by chance.

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