Sikhumbuzo Notshe says an inspirational Tiger Woods documentary helped him make a significant mental shift after feeling ‘down and out’ at the end of 2019, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In a wide-ranging Zoom chat with SARugbymag.co.za, Notshe opened up about his move from the Stormers to the Sharks, while discussing the crucial work conducted with assistant coach Dave Williams in ensuring he was able to set his career back on an upward trajectory.
Although Notshe earned six Test caps in 2018, he then endured a growing sense of frustration at the Stormers last year, which was compounded by a lack of game time, untimely injury setbacks and ultimately the major disappointment of missing out on World Cup selection.
Taking all this into account, Notshe – who turned 27 years old on Thursday – openly reflected on that challenging time, but also provided unique insight into how he found the means to ‘get his head back in the game’.
‘In 2019, to be deadly honest, I was down and out. By the end of the Currie Cup, I’d missed out on going to the World Cup, and if you want to call it depression, you can call it depression. I just didn’t want to speak about rugby anymore. I guess I was jealous in a way to not be there as the guys went on to win the World Cup. I knew I’d been there in the squad when things started out in 2018 under Rassie [Erasmus], who invited me into the group.
‘But my mate told me to watch a documentary of Tiger Woods called The Rise and Fall. After watching that, mentally I came out fresh … I think it was his dad who said, “You will never find someone as mentally tough as Tiger.” I made a decision that day to forget about what had happened in the past, I decided to focus on the Sharks and the future.
‘There was a Super Rugby campaign and I needed to contribute and earn respect. Because people don’t care if you’ve been a Springbok, or have six caps … So, I think after watching, I can say Tiger is one person who has really motivated me.’
After several years playing in Cape Town where Notshe had increasingly become disillusioned by certain confusing messages from former director of rugby Gert Smal and ex-coach Robbie Fleck, the skilful loose forward admits he needed to go ‘back to his principles’ and remember why he first started playing the game.
In addition, Notshe accepted he needed to make a change, which came in the form of a move to the Sharks where he hoped to enjoy more consistent game time.
After starring as one of the competition’s leading back rowers over the first seven rounds of Vodacom Super Rugby at the start of the year, Notshe says he quickly felt at home at the Sharks.
‘In Durban, I can go to a mall or a public gym, and people don’t necessarily recognise you. People are very chilled here. I really fell in love with that side of things. I think that’s good for me, there isn’t so much hype and I realised it will humble me … I’d been stuck in this habit of just wanting to get back on to the Bok radar and the national radar so badly that I’d lost my way a bit.
‘In 2016, I think in terms of senior rugby, that was my best year. But then there were some mixed messages about my physicality, things started going downhill, and I wasn’t really enjoying my rugby anymore. There was this grey cloud hanging over me. I gave it another couple years and thought things would change, but it didn’t, it was bad.
‘When I got invited to the Springbok alignment camp after sitting on the [Stormers] bench for nine weeks, I couldn’t actually believe it was happening. But that call-up showed me how there can be different views. Rassie told me if I wanted to be a Springbok, that I needed to be starting for a franchise and play [regularly].
‘So then I decided I just have to make a change. Rassie was being deadly honest with me, and that was what I needed, so I packed my bags and came to Durban. Now I feel like I’m back on the right path.’
However, Nothse added that when rugby does resume again, he realises the importance of ensuring he continues to perform consistently in order to realise his goal of earning a Springbok recall.
‘Over the first seven rounds we did play, I really tried to ensure mentally I pitched up to the best of my ability every game. I could be fighting with my girlfriend or whatever, but when 80 minutes of rugby comes, I need to be at my peak.’