Nkosi’s local inspiration
- 06 Oct 2017
S’busiso Nkosi hopes to emulate Sharks ‘elders’ Odwa Ndungane and Lwazi Mvovo, writes MIKE GREENAWAY.
If you had to encapsulate S’busiso Romeo Nkosi in three words, they would have to be ‘proudly South African’.
Consider the following: he was born and grew up in Barberton in Mpumalanga, attended Jeppe High School for Boys in Johannesburg and played two years of Craven Week for the Lions, was inspired to be a rugby wing by two stars from the Eastern Cape, supported the Bulls growing up and now plays his rugby for the Sharks. That makes him some all-rounder.
What adds to his South African flavour is the fact he reckons he doesn’t have any heroes on the world stage.
‘Nope,’ the 21-year-old says quietly. ‘I focus on the South Africans when I watch rugby on TV. Odwa Ndungane and Lwazi Mvovo are the reason I’m playing rugby. I didn’t look past them when I was at primary school.’
Nkosi adds that they would gather in the school hall to watch Super Rugby matches, and posters of the Sharks wings featured prominently on the bedroom wall in his house in Barberton, the town founded in the gold rush of the 1880s and which has given its name to the famous daisies. The Barberton daisy is, of course, the flower on the Blue Bulls jersey.
Nkosi was raised mostly by his mother after his father died when he was 12. His mother is a high-ranking official in the Department of Road Safety and Transport.
He describes himself as a sporty kid who played anything the school had to offer, and while he was gifted at soccer, he says, ‘It was always going to be rugby. I do recall being terrified the first time I played, though. I was six and an Afrikaans guy called CJ van der Walt enticed me to go play mini-rugby. I scored a try with my first touch of the ball. I ran as fast as I could because I was afraid of being tackled! I was hooked on rugby and the dream of being a professional player soon followed, and before long I was idolising Odwa and later Lwazi.’
Jeppe talent-spotted Nkosi playing for the Pumas at the U16 Grant Khomo Week in 2012, and he spent his last two years of school there.
His nickname at school was ‘Lomu’ because of his ability to burst through tackles, and while he is never going to quite fit that bill at senior level, there was a glimpse of his power when he fended off Ramone Samuels on his way to the tryline in the Sharks’ win over the Stormers.
After Jeppe, it was straight to the Sharks Academy and pretty soon the posters in his bedroom ‘came alive’.
‘I played for the Sharks U19s and the U21s and then I was suddenly with the seniors in the Currie Cup. Odwa and Lwazi almost literally took me under their wing. The experience of mixing and playing with them seemed like déjà vu, because I had played the scenario over and over in my head. I had pictured meeting them so often. It was surreal and too cool to put into words. Words can’t do it justice.’
Surreal indeed, especially in a match against the Sunwolves earlier this year when Mvovo twice made the early running from the back to put Nkosi away for tries.
The stocky Nkosi (almost 100kg at just 1.82m) says he has tried to copy the strengths of the ‘elders’, as he affectionately refers to the veteran wings.
‘I mean them no disrespect by calling them “elders”, it’s just that they have been down the path I want to go down and who better to point me in the right direction?
‘Lwazi has an explosive mix of speed and power, and plays with great courage. He really is an inspiration. You have to admire Odwa for his finishing skills, and they haven’t diminished [he is now 36 and spent the Provincial Rugby Challenge mentoring youngsters]. His positional play is also extremely good. I have learned a lot from watching how he reads the game and gets into the right position.’
Above all, Nkosi says he has learned humility from the Eastern Cape legends and that in rugby ‘nothing can ever be taken for granted, because you can be here today and gone tomorrow’.
The ‘elders’ have continuously advised Nkosi to work on his acceleration off the mark and have given him drills. After all, Nkosi admits, when you are a wing, nothing has a higher priority than sheer pace. He says the Sharks backs are regularly tested for their speed over 40m and he has been right up there, just behind Cobus Reinach, the quickest. Reinach has moved on to new pastures, so Nkosi can for now revel in being the fastest over a short distance.
‘Pace is obviously non-negotiable for a top wing, but the demands on players in this position have changed a fair bit in recent years,’ Nkosi says. ‘Nowadays the position is more intricate. There is a lot more to being a wing than being able to put the ball over the white line. You have to be a lot smarter in terms of positional play, because flyhalves are getting better at trying to catch you out.
‘Aerial skills are vital for a wing. There is a lot more contesting for the ball in the air these days,’ Nkosi adds. ‘You have to have complete skills in the modern game. Wing play has evolved so much from the days of being able to catch the ball and sprint for the corner. You also have to be able to kick to get your team out of trouble. Rugby is like a game of chess and the wings are put under a lot of pressure by the opposition’s kicking game. You have to have a good kicking game to relieve the pressure.’
– This article first appeared in the October 2017 issue of SA Rugby magazine
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