In a snippet from our latest issue, SA Rugby magazine caught up with former Springbok and Sharks No 8 Ryan Kankowski.
One of the first modern-day eighthmen, Ryan Kankowski was renowned for his athleticism and agility. He spent the better part of a decade at the Sharks after making his professional debut for the Durban-based team in the 2006 Currie Cup.
‘I was in thetraining squad for the 2006 Super Rugby season, but ended up playing sevens,’ Kankowski says. ‘Dick Muir thought it would help my game and I would like to think that it did. I ended up making my Super Rugby debut in 2007.’
That would be a special year for the Sharks as they hosted a Super Rugby final for the first time. However, it would ended in disappointment as the Bulls snatched the trophy with a memorable Bryan Habana try after the hooter.
For Kankowski, there were brighter moments to come: he made his Test debut at the end of 2007 against Wales at the Millennium Stadium and built on that to enjoy possibly his finest year in 2008.
‘It was a long time ago, but I have a lot of good memories of that year,’ Kankowski says.
During that year, he was named the South African Super Rugby Player of the Year and was nominated for SA Rugby Player of the Year. His Test career also progressed as he was included in the Bok squads for the incoming tour fixtures against Wales and Italy as well as the Tri-Nations and end-of-year squads. This led to him being included in the Springbok squad to face the British & Irish Lions in the historic 2009 series victory.
Kankowski remembers that what made the tour so special were ‘The supporters who come in and fill the place and sing like crazy. The whole country gets involved, from Currie Cup and Super Rugby teams to the Springboks, so it really is special.’
After falling out of favour when Heyneke Meyer took over as Springbok coach, Kankowski joined Japanese club Toyota Industries Shuttles.
‘I loved playing in Japan,’ Kankowski says. ‘It suited the way I liked to play and the people were amazing. I loved the culture and the respect they have for everything. It wasn’t hard to divide my time between them and the Sharks as one season ended when the other one started. What became difficult was never having an off-season. The body slowly starts packing up.’
Kankowski eventually signed a permanent deal to stay in Japan in 2015, but returned to South Africa for a short stint with the Lions in 2017.
‘I told [Lions owner] Altmann Allers, I would play one day and with Swys de Bruin having coached me at U21 level it was an easy choice. The guys at the Lions were a really special group of players and coaches.’
After returning to Japan with the Docomo Red Hurricanes, Kankowski would continue to play for the next two years before deciding to take a break in 2018.
‘My body was sore and it was time to start finding something else to put my time into.’
LIFE AFTER RUGBY
Kankowski expanded his involvement in property development, something he started during his rugby career. He also has developed an interest in ESports.
‘I needed time away from the game to get myself feeling good again and try and sort out all the niggles. I am also trying to learn golf, but it is not as easy to keep the ball going straight as it is in rugby.
‘I have always been a bit of a gamer so got to know all the people through gaming and friends. A friend has a team called Energy Esports, so I ended up having a fun time with them for a while and we weren’t too bad. I love it and it is only going to get bigger and bigger.
‘I will definitely look to give back to rugby,’ Kankowski adds. ‘I am always open to mentorship if any young rugby player needs it. I would also look at coaching at a school or somewhere that you can help and make a difference.’
Kankowski married Talisa in 2018. ‘I have been married for a year and a half now, but it feels like 10 years,’ he joked.
‘But seriously, I am very lucky. It has been amazing. We don’t have kids yet, but it is in the plans one day, God willing. My wife likes to keep busy outdoors, exploring and eating. I just follow the leader.’
Photo: Gallo Images