Sunday Times

It’s been a dream start for Thulani Hlatshwayo at Bucs

Bafana Bafana skipper watches his step at Pirates

- By SAZI HADEBE hadebes@sundaytime­

● It’s not easy to get hold of Thulani Hlatshwayo these days. It took two days to nail him down for a chat this week, with TV shootings and attending to household chores giving him little time for other things.

When he finally had a moment, the Bafana Bafana captain still had to double check with Orlando Pirates communicat­ions officials on what exactly he was allowed to delve into in this interview.

“I just don’t want to get into trouble talking about things I’m not even supposed to talk about,” said the soft-spoken Sowetoborn defender before returning my call a few minutes later.

Hlatshwayo’s hesitation when it comes to interviews is in stark contrast to what he does on the field of play where strikers in the PSL attest to the hard tackling that earned him “Tyson” as a nickname in his early days.

That robustness coupled with leadership skills helped Hlatshwayo quickly adjust to his switch to his childhood club Pirates from Bidvest Wits at the start of the 2020-21 campaign.

The Buccaneers may not have done enough in their past 17 DStv Premiershi­p matches to be considered strong candidates for the league title, but Hlatshwayo has already had a dream start that not many new Pirates players have had in recent years.

Alongside three recruits — Dean Hotto, Terrence Dzvukamanj­a and Thabang Monare from Wits, Wayne Jooste from Highlands Park and former Maritzburg United goalkeeper Richard Ofori — Hlatshwayo has helped Bucs end a six-year trophy famine after capturing the MTN8 title this season.

“It’s been a dream start indeed, but for me the highlight was the first goal I scored for the club [the opening goal in Bucs’ 3-0 win over Jwaneng Galaxy in the Caf Confederat­ion first leg play-off in Botswana] last week,” said the 31-year-old defender.

“I was beginning to worry because with previous teams I scored my first goal earlier than I did [he scored after playing 18 matches in all competitio­ns] with Pirates.”

Winning three matches against Chiefs — two in the MTN8 semifinals and one in the league — was also a special moment for Hlatshwayo.

“But I’ve always said that in a season we don’t only play Chiefs. The other games … your Baroka, Cape Town City and others are as important as beating Chiefs.”

It is against those low-profile teams and games that Pirates have not paid enough attention this season, with two of their three losses in the league coming against Black Leopards and Lamontvill­e Golden Arrows.

There were also draws against City, Stellenbos­ch FC, Arrows, AmaZulu FC, Baroka, Swallows FC and TS Galaxy that Hlatshwayo feels had they won at least half of these games, Bucs would have been better placed in the Premiershi­p log right now.

So dependable Hlatshwayo has been in the Pirates team that coach Josef Zinnbauer wasted no time in handing him the captain’s armband when club skipper Happy Jele was not in the team.

“We’ve spoken about it, me and him [Jele], and the coach has made it clear,” said

We know there’s still a lot to play for this season

Thulani Hlatshwayo

New Orlando Pirates player

Hlatshwayo of the captaincy at Bucs. “Happy Jele is the club captain and with me also having those leadership skills, I understand.

“The most important thing is for us to make sure that we work together and make sure that we get results for the team.”

Hlatshwayo highlights Bucs’ next three games, starting with the second leg against Jwaneng at the Orlando Stadium this afternoon, as critical to Bucs’ season. That MTN8 trophy is a big motivation for us and we know there’s still a lot to play for this season. “Consistenc­y will be key for us.”

The remaining part of the season, at least for Hlatshwayo, include crucial national team duties next month when Bafana need to confirm their place at next year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon.

Bafana play Ghana at home and Sudan away and three points in one of the two qualifiers will secure a place.

“It’s very important for us to make sure that we get a win against Ghana. Right now we’re both on nine points.

“We don’t want to experience what we had when we qualified with a last game against Libya for Afcon 2019.”

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 ?? Picture: BackpagePi­x ?? Bafana Bafana captain Thulani Hlatshwayo has had a brilliant start at Orlando Pirates.
Picture: BackpagePi­x Bafana Bafana captain Thulani Hlatshwayo has had a brilliant start at Orlando Pirates.

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