Banned Dyantyi a special talent lost

Without making an ill-informed judgement on guilt or intent, Aphiwe Dyantyi’s four-year ban is a cautionary outcome for one of the most prodigiously talented backline players, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

It’s been confirmed that a four-year suspension has been handed down to Dyantyi. The athlete was informed on Friday and a formal statement will be released on Monday.

It now remains to be seen whether he will consider appealing the decision, and whether the full details of his defence will be made public.

READ: Dyantyi’s doping case timeline

Yet, if precedent is anything to go by, it seems Dyantyi will ultimately have to accept his fate and serve out a ban that will run until 12 August 2023, which is just days before his 29th birthday. For a wing, those are some prime years that will be lost.

It will also deprive South African and world rugby of one of the most remarkable talents who first burst on to the international scene in 2018.

I was fortunate to be at Ellis Park on the day that Dyantyi made his Test debut against England, helping to inspire the Springboks to a sensational comeback win. It was clear that day that a very special player had been discovered.

In fact, by the end of the year, Dyantyi emerged as the good-news story of 2018 for South African rugby, proving to be an inspirational example of how stardom could be achieved through unconventional means.

By now, it’s a tale well told. After failing to make the Dale College 1st XV in matric, Dyantyi opted to hang up his boots and focus on his tertiary studies.

However, after some social rugby the youngster rediscovered his love for the game. From there, he sped through the ranks, starring for UJ in the Varsity Cup before making his Currie Cup debut in 2017, which subsequently led to a dream debut season in Super Rugby in 2018.

From one stage to the next, Dyantyi dazzled, scoring six tries in his first eight Tests before ending 2018 by being named World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year award.

Those were the highest of highs, and at that point the thought of the wing missing out on the 2019 World Cup would have been seen as a potentially devastating blow to the Springboks’ squad composition.

With all that in mind, it’s difficult to reconcile with the news that this four-year suspension may well have crippled his career after a nightmare past 18 months, which included injury and then his positive tests for banned substances.

Considering Dyantyi’s humble upbringing and unlikely journey to Springbok stardom, he was one of those players who back in 2018 had quickly become a fan favourite, while his unique try celebration was mimicked by many youngsters inspired by his story.

I remember sitting at one media conference in 2018, where Dyantyi explained why he celebrated by raking his fingers across his chest in what looked to be a metaphorical breaking of the chains.

In part, it owed its origins to when Dyantyi watched the All Blacks’ haka as a young boy, but it also harked back to when he watched a film about a Kenyan tribe called the Maasai when he was in grade seven.

‘There was a kid from the royal family [in the film] who has to go through an initiation process into manhood,’ he explained. ‘The kid goes out into the wild and he faces a lion that he goes on to defeat. He did a similar sort of thing [celebration], and it’s also where I drew my inspiration. It’s kind of like conquering lions.’

Dyantyi will now have to conquer another set of challenges if he is to relaunch his career in 2023. It’s impossible to know whether that remains a viable possibility, but I do know that I – for one – will miss watching the on-field antics and abilities of a remarkable player.

A player who once reflected on the challenges he had endured in making it to the top of the game, and offered this answer which provided real insight into his character.

‘One thing I’ve learned is never to glorify my struggles because I can imagine that everyone sitting here has their own struggle story to talk about at some point.’

And in that context, I’ll personally reserve judgement until I know all the facts.

READ: ‘My heart is at peace’

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Craig Lewis