Cheetahs hooker Joseph Dweba says he is excited to finally have a chance to make the No 2 jersey his own this season. DYLAN JACK reports.
In his first season as the Cheetahs’ first-choice hooker, the burly 23-year-old has been in good form, scoring four tries in 13 matches, including a brace against Irish giants Munster in November last year.
‘For me, individually, it has been fantastic. I have been getting game time and fortunate enough to be playing and seeing how the team is growing. We are a young team, I think the average age is around 23. It has been a rocky start to the season for us, but things are starting to look up and go our way.
‘It is really amazing. The confidence in a player builds with every game that you play, and your coach sees a lot of confidence in you when you start. It has been great to be starting.’
However, Dweba has had to bide his time and be patient for his opportunity. With the experienced Namibian international Torsten van Jaarsveld holding down the position in the Cheetahs’ Pro14 team and Jacques du Toit as his deputy, Dweba was largely restricted to playing in the Rugby Challenge and Currie Cup, having made just one reserve appearance in the Pro14 last season.
‘A lot of people have helped me out, but most of them have gone,’ he said. ‘They saw the talent and potential in me. A guy like Boom Prinsloo helped me quite a lot.
‘Torsten always told me that if I needed advice I could come to him at any time. He was in a similar situation with Adriaan Strauss, when Adriaan led the Cheetahs. I kept asking him how a player could get out of this and he told me I was a good player, but it wasn’t my time. When he left, he told me to fight for that No 2 jersey because he believed I could be the next big thing.’
Growing up in the mining town of Carletonville, Dweba admits that he initially found it quite difficult to develop any love for rugby, but that changed when he started attending Gerrit Maritz Primary.
‘I didn’t like rugby at all. I was a soccer guy. I actually hated it a little, I am sorry to say,’ Dweba says. ‘The community I came from was mostly interested in soccer. But then I went to an Afrikaans primary school. The coach in Grade 3, Mr Badenhorst, saw something in me, a bit of physique. He spoke to my parents and asked them if I could come to try out for rugby and my mom agreed, but only if I was interested. From there I never looked back.’
After playing provincially for the Lions until Grade 11, Dweba made the decision to further his rugby by playing for Free State, finishing school at HTS Louis Botha in Bloemfontein.
‘That is a bit of a long story. I was with the Lions and played U13 Craven Week and U16 Grant Khomo. It came down to a point where they thought had me in their books, I was going to go there after school. At that time I was 18 years old in Grade 11. But the Cheetahs made me an offer, I was going to play school games and after that play U19 for them as well.
‘I thought it was a good opportunity. Also, Malcolm Marx had just moved from flank to hooker so it was going to be a challenge with the Lions.’
After a shaky start to the season, the Cheetahs appear to have made the most of a four-week break in December, and are currently on a three-match winning streak and closing in on a potential third-place finish in Conference A.
‘To be quite honest, we are not thinking too much about it,’ Dweba admitted. ‘We are taking each game as it comes. We want to excel in each and every game and be better than our last game. We played Zebre last weekend, but we want to be better than that. That is not necessarily saying we are going to score 60 points again, but we want to polish off the errors that we did make in those games and improve as a team.
‘It also applies to me as an individual. As a hooker, I want to keep polishing off my lineouts, my scrums, my ball-carrying and my stealing. All of us as individuals can keep working on those little mistakes.’
The Cheetahs next face their second of three derbies against the Kings, having claimed a 24-17 victory in Port Elizabeth in January. However, with the Kings coming off a stunning victory over Edinburgh last weekend, Dweba is under no illusion how tough the match could be.
‘It is a very important game. As a player in the Pro14 you get to play against players who are really good. For example, I am facing Michael Willemse this weekend and he is very experienced and has been around the park for a long time. I always want to measure myself against the guys who have been there. I am fortunate enough to be in the Pro14 where I can measure myself against the top players each and every week and find out how I can be better.’
Photo: Frikkie Kapp/BackpagePix