• From the mag: Refusing to fail

    Former Sharks U18 prop Patrick Sikhosana has followed a winding road to the unlikeliest of playing fields in Spain, writes DYLAN JACK in the latest SA Rugby magazine.

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    When looking back at the Sharks U18 team at the 2012 Craven Week in Port Elizabeth, there are a few names that immediately stand out. Daniel and Jean-Luc du Preez were in the pack – in those days Daniel was a lock – while Dan and Jesse Kriel, as well as future Sharks scrumhalf Cameron Wright, were in the backline.

    However, for very different reasons, the name Patrick Sikhosana also stands out. Schooled at Port Shepstone High, Sikhosana was the only player in that squad that was not from a Durban-based school. What’s more, even though he weighed in at what most would consider a lightweight 84.7kg at the time, he was named as the team’s starting loosehead prop.

    When SA Rugby magazine catches up with Sikhosana eight years later, he is living in Madrid and playing second-division club rugby for Industriales in Spain. He also has hopes of representing the country internationally in the next couple of years.

    ‘To be honest, here it is more about the rugby culture than it is about the actual rugby. It is semi-professional level. There are quite a few South Africans here. Basically, we are trying to improve the quality of rugby here and help with coaching.

    ‘The level of coaching here is really poor,’ Sikhosana admits. ‘For example, this year we had at least 15 foreigners – who are all professional rugby players in their own respect from their different countries. But our coaches had coached only U16s. So they struggle to discipline guys on the field, simply because they are now working with grown men.’

    Having grown up in a lower-income, single-parent household, Sikhosana did not have the access to resources that many of his Craven Week teammates enjoyed, but he was determined to make a career out of rugby and dreamed of playing for the Sharks and Springboks.

    ‘I don’t come from a rich family, so leaving wasn’t an option for me, especially at that age,’ Sikhosana says. ‘I had my brother, who was a teacher and rugby coach at Port Shepstone – helping me with technique and stuff like that. I was playing alongside all these guys who had their agents, their private coaches and all I had was my brother.

    ‘Sometimes I didn’t even have a pair of rugby boots. I would get to trials and when one guy came off, I would borrow his boots and run on.’

    Despite these challenges, as a 16-year-old he was attracting the attention of some of the region’s biggest rugby schools, but decided to stay at Port Shepstone High.

    ‘In 2010, I was getting bursary offers from Westville, Glenwood and Kearsney. But I told myself that I wasn’t going to take them. Why should I have to if I can make it from here? If I am good enough, that is how it should be. I told myself that I am going to stay with my mom as long as I possibly can.’

    After missing out on the KZN U16 team in 2010 and U18 team in 2011, despite making the final round of trials for both, Sikhosana eventually made the KZN U18 side in his matric year in 2012.

    ‘It was an emotional moment. I was – and still am – the first black boy from the south coast to make it into the starting lineup. I still get emotional when I think about it now.’

    Following the highs of the 2012 Craven Week – when the Sharks beat a Free State team with the likes of Paul Jordaan and Ox Nche – reality came knocking as Sikhosana had to decide what to do after school.

    ‘My family was putting pressure on me. I needed to apply to varsities. I kept telling them I was waiting for my Sharks contract. It didn’t come.’

    After school, Sikhosana spent a year with the Border U19 team before moving back to KZN. An influential figure in Sikhosana’s career was Lodie van Staden, the Border Bulldogs coach who gave Sikhosana the chance to come to the Eastern Cape.

    ‘I will mention this guy a lot because without him the black rugby players in the south coast would never have stood a chance,’ Sikhosana says. ‘He coached Lukhanyo Am – he is basically Lukhanyo’s mentor. They do video chats and things like that. I had to spend some nights at Lodie’s house. Sometimes I would have no boots – so Lodie would take off his boots and give them to me. If I had no food, Lodie would help me.

    A particular low point came between 2014 and the beginning of 2015, after he was released by the Bulldogs and moved back to Durban. His bursary from the Sharks Academy was cut and the course he was due to study at UKZN was discontinued. He was rescued by Pietermaritzburg Collegians.

    ‘PMB Collegians were very good to me and got me a job. When I went to Pietermaritzburg all I had was a little Chevy Spark, my suitcase and a little bar fridge. I spent the first two nights in my car. They embraced me and I was able to be honest with them but I wasn’t satisfied. I wasn’t playing rugby at the level that I wanted.’

    The following year in 2016, Sikhosana was given a contract to play for the Varsity College Old Boys and he ended up captaining the team in 2017.

    In the same year the chance to play for the Valke came up, but Sikhosana turned it down after chatting to Van Staden, who by the time had left Valke to coach in Spain.

    ‘It was one of the hardest decisions to make. That is when I had to sacrifice my dream. But having a person like Lodie and his family who settled here, helped me with the transition to the Spanish lifestyle.

    ‘When he left Spain, he said something that stuck with me: he said that he only helps people who he knows will in turn help others. That is exactly what I have done without even realising it. I have brought a couple of people to Spain and in my head it didn’t register as that. It only hit me when he left and said those words. He is that guy that wants the best for everyone.

    ‘My hope is that this gets to someone out there, just to give them an idea of what players go through,’ Sikhosana adds. ‘As a player, you cannot give yourself the option of failure. Realise it is not just a game, it is a life. If you want to make it work, it has to be your lifestyle. Especially if you come from a troubled background. You have to make sure you have the passion, the drive and never give yourself the option of failure.’

    ON THE RISE
    This year, Sikhosana’s Industrales team was on the brink of winning promotion to the A League before the Covid-19 pandemic intervened and the season was suspended.
    ‘It was disappointing. A little twist is we found out that two teams in the B-division can’t afford to play in the A-division, they don’t have the resources or the sponsors. So there is the possibility that we might still go up.’

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    Dylan Jack