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Craig Lewis

A wing and a prayer


Courtnall Skosan in SA Rugby magazine Courtnall Skosan in SA Rugby magazine

Courtnall Skosan completed a remarkable journey to Springbok honours when he started all three Tests against France in June, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Courtnall Skosan has followed a distinctly unconventional route to reach the Test arena, but the Springbok wing believes every obstacle along the way has helped make him the person and player he is today.

The 25-year-old comes from humble beginnings in the northern suburbs of Cape Town, where he candidly admits he was a victim of bullying during his early school days. However, when Skosan made the move to Brackenfell High, sport became his refuge. Athletics was his first love, with the speedster excelling in the sprints, but Skosan also took an immediate liking to rugby.

From a young age, he displayed clear signs of natural talent, and yet a professional rugby career appeared to be nothing more than a pipe dream during his teenage years. Having never featured at junior level for Western Province, Skosan’s big break eventually came from the most unlikely avenue when he took part in an invitational sevens tournament, which happened to be broadcast on TV.

Against expectations, Skosan received word that the Bulls had seen him in action and were keen for him to come to Pretoria for a junior trial. Although plans for his tertiary studies were already in place, with Skosan appearing destined for a career in business, his family gave him their blessing to attempt to pursue his dream of playing rugby at a higher level.

For the first time in his life, Skosan made a move away from home, with passion and self-belief his primary companions, as he took the first steps on a new journey, one that he tells SA Rugby magazine was not without its perils and temptations.

‘Making the move to the Bulls was an opportunity to make a dream a reality, but as much as it required an adjustment in terms of the level of rugby, I also had to adapt to the fact I no longer had friends or family around, and it was really the first time I’d been on my own away from home.

‘I had always had this love for rugby, but I came into a new environment, where I was suddenly earning money at a young age, and you start to get this misconception that you’re a big shot who’s made it. I almost got caught up in all of that and the social lifestyle of going out all the time, but then I met a pastor from Pretoria, who is still my mentor today. It was probably the best thing to happen to me at the time; otherwise I might have been led astray.’

Back on the straight and narrow, and with his goals clearly redefined, Skosan turned out for the Junior Springboks in 2011, and he featured prominently for Tuks in their victorious 2012 and 2013 Varsity Cup campaigns. He also represented the Blue Bulls at U19 and U21 levels. Through this exposure, the Lions’ management team picked up on the progress of a talented young player who they felt could fit into their squad plans as they continued preparations for a return to Super Rugby in 2014.

Skosan takes up the story: ‘When the Lions approached me, it was at a time when I was looking for a change and new opportunities. When I met coach Ackers [Johan Ackermann] and coach Swys [de Bruin], they explained to me what the vision was for the team, and how they felt I could be a part of it; I knew then that it was the place for me. I was at a stage where I needed to decide whether to give rugby a real go, or just finish my studies and follow my dream to try to start my own business. But I think God showed me the way, and it was the perfect move for me to make.’

However, it was also a move that presented further learning curves.

In Skosan’s highly-anticipated debut for the Lions in 2014, he was introduced in no uncertain terms to the size and strength of powerful Blues star Frank Halai, who steamrolled over him in a moment that served as a rude awakening.

‘Making the shift from Varsity Cup to Super Rugby just a year later was a massive adjustment,’ he reflects. ‘My debut didn’t go that well, but I learned from it, and that’s been my outlook on every challenge or setback ever since.’

Taking that lesson on board, Skosan continued to hone his craft and conditioning, while gradually establishing himself as a key member of a new-look Lions team that went on to secure the 2015 Currie Cup crown during a remarkable undefeated campaign. Last year, Skosan’s consistently impressive form earned him a call-up to the South Africa A squad to face the England Saxons, while he started in all three of the Lions’ playoff games as they progressed to the 2016 Super Rugby final.

Yet, when reflecting on those unforgettable experiences, Skosan remains as humble as ever.

‘Everything that’s been achieved at the Lions comes down to the incredible culture and faith that we have as a team. The first day I walked into the Lions camp, respected players such as Warren Whiteley and Derick Minnie greeted me by name, and made me feel so welcome. It’s such a humble, hard-working environment at the Lions, where we care so much about each other. It’s a brotherhood that we really believe in, and we’re all striving to be the best possible version of ourselves on and off the field.’

That environment has brought out the best in Skosan, who achieved his ultimate goal of representing the Springboks when he deservedly earned inclusion for the three-Test series against France in June. The fleet-footed wing went on to start all three Tests in the No 11 jersey previously reserved for Bok legend Bryan Habana, and he certainly looked at home on the Test stage.

In certain respects, it represented the culmination of an amazing journey to national honours, but for the humble young star from the small suburb of Northpine in the Western Cape, this is just the beginning.

‘I can’t put into words how special it was to be involved with the Springboks [in June]. When I heard my name announced in the squad, I had such a sense of dankbaarheid [gratitude], and it just made me feel like anything was possible. I’m a guy who didn’t play any Craven Week, I didn’t go straight into a professional rugby set-up after school, and even when I did, it didn’t go exactly as planned at senior level. However, I believe everything I’ve faced and learned along the way has helped me grow into the person I am today. Each challenge has been a stepping stone, and over the years I’ve been fortunate to become really aware of who I am, and where I want to go. I’m excited for whatever opportunities I receive in the future to give my all for the team.’

SKOSAN ON ...

HIS ACTIVE PRESENCE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
‘I really enjoy interacting with people, and the whole vision behind it revolves around three things: motivation, inspiration and education. I just want people to know that all things are possible. I was a very negative person a few years ago, and it was all about me, myself and I. But that all changed through committing to Christ. Humility is key, but for me it’s about having faith, and I think God has provided me with a platform through rugby to reach out to other people, and to hopefully influence them in a positive way.’

STARTING HIS OWN YOUTUBE CHANNEL
‘I’ve always wanted to give back to the rugby community and those who have followed my journey. So I’ve wanted to find ways to offer something in return, whether it be by providing workout tips, motivation or just sharing insight into the everyday life of a professional sportsman. Hopefully people can take something out of the videos, and it’s a platform I’m really excited to develop further.’

HIS TIME WITH THE BOKS IN JUNE
‘It was a massive learning curve for me as a player – there was a different vibe and lots of extra detail that went into game preparation – but I really took a lot out of it, and I felt that sense of us carrying the hopes of the nation, so it was just such a special experience. We all really fought for each other out there on the field, and that was a great environment to be in. I haven’t achieved anything yet and I know there’s still a lot to learn and work on, but I’m grateful to those who have helped me get to where I am today. My wife, family, friends and coaches have all played a big role in my life up to this point; they are my backbone and are with me 100%, through the good and bad.’

– This article first appeared in the August 2017 issue of SA Rugby magazine

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