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
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.