Sikhumbuzo Notshe’s revival at the Sharks is entirely self-driven, writes SIMNIKIWE XABANISA in the latest SA Rugby magazine.
Anyone who has ever met Sikhumbuzo Notshe has always taken away one thing – the Sharks No 8 is not backwards about coming forward with an opinion.
It’s a trait us hacks love in a rugby player because the ‘one-game-at-a-time’ brigade have been draining our will to live for years. The only thing the media loves more is a player who backs up everything they say out on the field. This is something Notshe hasn’t consistently been able to do, for several reasons.
There have been the niggling injuries; South Africa’s preference of No 8s who play the position like blindside flankers; the fact his former employers, the Stormers, for all their reputation as a free-running team, were more often pragmatic and arm-wrestle reliant; not to mention the player’s reputation for being lippy, something coaches don’t always appreciate.
But try telling that to the Notshe who has been running out for the Sharks. Now 26, he finally looks at one with the precocious gifts which led many to predict he would have a bright future.
Yet the King William’s Town native has become the embodiment of ‘if throwing down the gauntlet was a person’, as the kids like to say. Always blessed with great athleticism, spatial awareness and an intuitive feel for the game, a re-born Notshe has added ridiculous work rate to the bargain.
As a result, he has almost become a one-man tackling, carrying and assisting show en route to becoming the South African Super Rugby franchises’ most influential player and certainly their best No 8.
Notshe’s early season numbers were off the charts, but the most impressive part of his game has been his willingness to roll up his sleeves and elbow for room in the tight-loose. Not bad for a guy who’s always had the velvety side of the game covered but suffocated when the game got tight.
A great example of the new grit in Notshe’s game was the work he put into creating a try for wing Madosh Tambwe’s in the Sharks’ 33-23 win over the Reds. Changing direction in broken play short of the halfway line, he beat about five defenders before realising he still needed 20 more metres to draw the last defender and make it a sure thing for Tambwe. The pain was already etched on his face when he decided to bust his lungs further by putting his foot down to close the gap before passing.
As tempting as it is to put Notshe’s revival to a change of franchise and being injury-free, most of the credit should go to the player.
He was brave to leave the comfort zone of the Stormers to take his game to the next level. Notshe displayed incredible self-belief in taking on the tag of the Sharks’ marquee signing when he was barely playing and their fans were scratching their heads as to why he was bought.
Notshe, who was in the running for the World Cup squad, made no excuses for his omission, saying Rassie Erasmus had told him what was expected of him and he hadn’t met those standards. Because he is essentially a silky player, his willingness to work hard – as was showcased by his moving to openside flank a few years ago and his stint with the Blitzboks – has always been underrated.
So, in a way, the performances we’ve seen have been a long time coming. The question is, now the real Notshe has stood up, is it enough to earn him a place in the Bok team, where Duane Vermeulen’s shadow still looms large?
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