Sbu Nkosi’s sen­sa­tional Bok debut

S’bu­siso Nkosi’s two tries helped the Spring­boks clinch a come-from-be­hind vic­tory in a his­tory-mak­ing match

YOU (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - COMPILED BY KIM ABRA­HAMS

AFLAILING econ­omy, a qua­ver­ing rand, dirty pol­i­tics, bouts of racism and Jacob Zuma’s seem­ing de­ter­mi­na­tion to stay in the game are enough to make us sink into de­spair. But every so of­ten some­thing hap­pens to take our minds off the bad and the ugly and re­minds us just what we’re ca­pa­ble of – and at times like this, South Africans’ hearts seem to beat as one.

The game be­tween the Spring­boks and Eng­land was one such time. Much had been made of the clash, of course – it was Siya Kolisi’s first game as the cap­tain, the first time a black per­son helmed the Boks.

But the star of the day came from a far more un­likely corner: a fresh-faced 22-year-old dot­ted the ball over the try line not once but twice. And mak­ing it all the more spe­cial was the fact it was S’bu- siso Nkosi’s debut ap­pear­ance with the Spring­boks.

It made fans of the na­tional team be­lieve in the power of sport again, po­lit­i­cal writer and com­men­ta­tor Jus­tice Malala said af­ter the event.

“For a few mo­ments, a coun­try that’s de­scended into mainly de­struc­tive so­cial-me­dia racial war­fare was re­minded that we’re all hu­man, all South African. For a mo­ment, hope beat hard in our hearts.”

Sports writer Sim Xa­ban­isa felt it too. Not only was it the Boks’ first game with a black cap­tain, but the bulk of SA’s 42 points to Eng­land’s 39 were scored by black debu­tant play­ers – one try by Aphiwe Dyan­tyi (23) and two by Sbu.

“I’ve writ­ten about rugby for 18 years and in that time I’ve seen some se­ri­ous lows and been priv­i­leged enough to have writ­ten about a fi­nal in which the Spring­boks won,” Xa­ban­isa tweeted af­ter the

game. “But even that pales in sig­nif­i­cance [com­pared with] re­port­ing on yes­ter­day’s game – at long last I feel like I be­long.” Sbu had al­ways known he’d achieve his dream of play­ing for the Boks but even he couldn’t have pre­dicted his debut match would end with a his­toric vic­tory and his name splashed across sports head­lines. “I’ve al­ways known that I’d be a Spring­bok some­day,” he said af­ter his stel­lar per­for­mance. “Sport is a tough world and you need that kind of faith if you want to pull through to the high­est level and, most im­por­tantly, stay at the high­est level.” And pull through to the high­est level Sbu cer­tainly did.

HIS as­ton­ish­ing debut was a dream come true for Sbu, his aunt Nom c e b o Nkosi says. “I can tell you he was very happy when he got called up to play for the na­tional team. “Even I was so ex­cited for him that I shed a tear. I wish his fa­ther were still alive to see what his son has be­come.” Even though his dad, Dedrick – who died in a car crash in De­cem­ber 2009 – wanted him to fo­cus on aca­demics rather than sport, he’d still be sup­port­ive of Sbu’s rugby career, Nom­cebo be­lieves.

“Sbu is where he is to­day be­cause of the sup­port he got from us as a fam­ily.”

S’bu­siso Romeo Nkosi was born in Bar­ber­ton, Mpumalanga, and grew up with Dedrick, mom Con­stance, sis­ter Lin­delwa (12) and brother Sanele (20).

“My fond­est mem­ory of Sbu as a kid was when we used to ride our bi­cy­cles to­gether. This one time I fell and he had to carry me home while push­ing the bi­cy­cles,” Nom­cebo says with a laugh.

“That’s Sbu – he’s al­ways been thought­ful, kind and car­ing. And he loved Poké­mon. He was even given the nick­name Poké­mon by fam­ily mem­bers!”

Sbu went to Bar­ber­ton High School where he ex­celled at rugby – so much so that he was awarded a Jake White schol­ar­ship in Grade 11 to at­tend Jeppe High School for Boys in Jo­han­nes­burg, where he played Craven Week rugby for the Golden Lions.

Af­ter fin­ish­ing high school in 2014, he left for Dur­ban where he joined the Sharks as a winger.

Two years later, in March 2016, he joined the South Africa un­der-20 train­ing squad – South Africa’s ju­nior team at na­tional level.

He was part of the se­lected team that took on the 2016 World Rugby un­der-20 cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment held in Manch­ester, Eng­land, later that year.

Al­though the team made it to the semi­fi­nal, Sbu was un­able to join them there as a thigh in­jury dur­ing the fi­nal pool match had left him un­able to take part in the rest of the tour­na­ment.

Back on home soil, Sbu was in­cluded in the Sharks squad for the 2016 Cur­rie Cup Premier Division but didn’t get any game time. In­stead, he made only three ap­pear­ances for the Sharks U21 team in the 2016 Un­der-21 Pro­vin­cial Cham­pi­onship.

Later that year he joined the Sharks’ Su­per Rugby squad for the 2017 sea­son but it wasn’t un­til this year that his big break fi­nally came.

“From the very first day I saw him, I re­alised he had some­thing spe­cial. He’s got amaz­ing foot­work, speed and the big­gest drive to get to the top I’ve seen in a player,” says Sharks as­sis­tant coach Dick Muir, who started work­ing with Sbu in Novem­ber last year.

Muir adds that Sbu’s mis­lead­ing physique makes him a good at­tack­ing mid­fielder.

At a sturdy 97kg with a height just 2cm short of 1,8m, Sbu is “a player who goes for­ward in con­tact and never dies with the ball”, he adds.

Spring­bok coach Rassie Eras­mus also sings Sbu’s praises. Just a few days be­fore the game, Eras­mus said he be­lieved the up-and-com­ing star could’ve made his debut much sooner.

“I think Sbu was close to mak­ing his debut last year, if I read the re­ports cor­rectly, and I watched him when I was still in Ire­land and he was one of the in-form wingers in the coun­try. “There are def­i­nitely still some ar­eas that need im­prove­ment in his game, like un­der the high ball. But he’s pro­gress­ing re­ally well, and I’m ex­cited about the at­tack­ing at­tributes he has.”

Now that he’s fi­nally worn the greenand-gold jersey, Sbu’s fo­cus is on en­sur­ing his career has dura­bil­ity.

In fact, he says his debut game as a Spring­bok is just the be­gin­ning of a dream re­alised.

“It’s not quite a dream come true yet – it’s the be­gin­ning of a dream come true. I don’t just want to play for the Spring­boks, I want to be ex­cel­lent for the Spring­boks and I want to do great things in the jersey.” S

‘I’ve al­ways known that I’d be a Spring­bok some­day’

LEFT: Sbu joined the Sharks four years ago. FAR LEFT: With RG Sny­man, coach Rassie Eras­mus, Aphiwe Dyan­tyi and Siya Kolisi.

ABOVE LEFT: S’bu­siso and his mom, Con­stance. ABOVE RIGHT: The tal­ented wing back in his Jeppe High School for Boys days. He won a schol­ar­ship to the pres­ti­gious Joburg school on the strength of his rugby prow­ess.

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