Cheetahs wing Rabz Maxwane has set his sights on finishing as the top try-scorer in the Pro14 this season. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
Maxwane initially played for Western Province, which was followed by a stint at the Vodacom Bulls, where he was included their 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby squad.
But Maxwane had a tough time breaking into the Bulls team, prompting a move to the Cheetahs in mid-2017. And it is proving to be an inspired switch, with Maxwane setting the Pro14 alight with his dazzling footwork and peerless scoring form.
Since joining the Cheetahs, he has scored 15 tries in 22 appearances, with 14 of those touchdowns coming in 19 Pro14 matches.
This season alone, the flying winger has made 22 clean breaks (rank one) and scored nine tries (rank one) in 11 games. And he says his upturn in form is thanks in part to coach Franco Smith affording him an extended run in the Cheetahs’ starting lineup.
‘Everything is going well and I feel comfortable here in Bloemfontein because I’ve been given more opportunities to play. So yeah, I’m loving my time at the Cheetahs,’ he told SARugbymag.co.za.
‘I’m allowed to play to my strengths and to express myself on the field and that boils down to a belief in my abilities from the coaches’ side. I want to be involved in every play, and being able to go and look for work with the coach’s blessing is great.’
Maxwane sat out their game against Connacht in December last year due to a quad tear, but his temporary absence didn’t induce a decline in form. He scored again in the Cheetahs’ next two matches, against Zebre and the Kings. And now the 23-year-old is keen to extend his try tally and etch his name in Pro14 history.
‘I’d like to finish as the leading try-scorer. I want to be the best in my position and a leader within the team. Obviously I’m young and still have a lot to learn. This is my first season playing from game one and getting an extended run, but I’m always learning and looking at ways to improve, not just in terms of on-field performances, but also improving my understanding of the game. You can never be perfect as a person or as a player, so there’s always room for improvement. My wish is to be able to inspire my teammates and lead by example.’
Despite Maxwane’s exceptional individual displays, the Cheetahs have had a disappointing campaign. They were winless in their opening six games of the tournament, and although they went on to win four of their last six, they are currently languishing in sixth position in the Conference A log.
But Maxwane is adamant the Cheetahs can turn things around in the second half of the season to reach the knockout rounds.
‘We can qualify, as long as we don’t think too far ahead. We are taking it game by game and we are gradually improving. But I can sense that the guys are starting to believe now that we might sneak into the quarter-finals if we continue to get positive results. We are always looking forward to a challenge, and trying to make the playoffs presents us with a decent challenge to chase.
‘It’s quite intimidating [playing in the Pro14] because we are facing so many established internationals, guys who have seen it all and played in the European weather conditions all their life. But we are learning from that and getting better and picking up different trends as we go along.
‘It takes some getting used to playing in the icy northern hemisphere weather conditions. I mean, Bloemfontein is blazing hot. But these are the things we have to embrace. Results won’t go our way all the time, but we are working towards a goal and being able to win away games will help our cause.’
As to his own future, Maxwane doesn’t rule out a possible move back to Super Rugby in an attempt to become a Springbok.
‘I can’t really say what will happen, but as time goes by I would like a different challenge. I started playing Super Rugby for the Bulls, but things didn’t go so well. I’d love to give it another shot, as obviously I do harbour hopes of playing Test rugby for our country.
‘But at the moment, that is not where my focus lies. I believe everything will come into place when it’s meant to be. For now, I’m intent on doing well for the Cheetahs. There is a bigger picture, but at the same time there is a smaller picture, and that is the one I’m looking at and focusing on now.’
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images