Aphelele Fassi says he learned a lot about himself and the value of his support system during a frustrating injury-enforced absence from action towards the end of last year, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Just after Christmas, Fassi made his return to play for the Sharks. It came nearly nine months after he had last laced up his boots for competitive rugby.
The talented youngster had been one of the stars over the first few rounds of the 2020 Vodacom Super Rugby season, but competition was halted indefinitely from March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Several months later, and just as South African rugby was preparing to launch the new-look domestic competition, Fassi suffered a serious shoulder injury during a freak training-ground accident.
In the latest SA Rugby magazine, Fassi reflected on that injury-disrupted end to a tumultuous 2020, and how he had to quickly realign his thinking.
‘It was an interesting year for me, going to New Zealand and Australia, playing top teams over there and feeling so comfortable in the way I could express myself and put my name out there. It really felt good. And when we came back, we played the Jaguares, and that was also a fantastic outcome for us.
‘But when the virus hit us and rugby had to be suspended it felt like something had been taken away from you and you could do nothing about it, it’s something that you have no control over. Post-lockdown, when I got injured, was another very frustrating time.
‘Not being able to train or play; I was in a dark place, but I’m just so grateful to have the family that I have and a team who were very supportive, taking care of me in all manner of ways, just doing anything that would make me happy and that I was not alone.
‘The injury was very challenging, though, because it’s the first long-term injury that I’ve had. It has really made me very, very hungry to play and to actually achieve things that I never thought I would. I just want to play more and get the game time I need.’
Fassi quickly reclaimed the Sharks No 15 jersey once he returned to fitness, and the 23-year-old remains firmly on the national radar.
It’s understood that the talented youngster would have been in line to earn his first Test cap last year if not for the Springboks’ withdrawal from action.
‘I always want to improve, and I keep on telling myself that if I really, really want to succeed, then I have to work really hard on my game,’ Fassi commented. ‘I’ve worked on the physical side, and I’ve also worked on my high-ball skills. But the main improvement has been in my ability to understand and to read the game. I’ve come to a realisation that once I have that, I can do whatever I want to do.
‘The passion to play for the Boks will always be there, but I feel that for me to get there, I need to be consistent in my performances for the club that I’m playing for. That’s the first thing that comes into play for me, and then to keep improving on the small details in terms of my game and my knowledge.
‘My long-term goal is obviously to play for the Springboks, just like any young South African kid. I will always want to represent my country and I will be working hard towards that.’
*The full interview with Fassi features in the latest SA Rugby magazine.