Oupa Mohoje says he never lost belief that he would receive another opportunity to make his mark in the Springbok set-up if he continued to ‘graft hard’, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Nelspruit.
Mohoje was one of the few standout performers for the Springboks in Saturday's Test against Argentina, particularly making an impact on defence, with the abrasive flanker completing 12 tackles and missing just one.
The 26-year-old’s cover defence was particularly impressive, and saw Mohoje demonstrate the sort of pace that Allister Coetzee has championed as one of the strengths that has earned him selection at blindside flank.
Although Mohoje played in seven Tests in 2014, he featured in just one match off the bench last year, and ultimately missed out on World Cup selection.
The loose forward then had a further setback when he suffered a serious knee injury towards the end of last year, and at the time, it appeared as if it might be a long road back to the Boks for the Cheetahs loose forward.
However, he eventually made his return to action in April this year, and did enough to earn inclusion in the SA A side, while also being named as captain for the two-match series against the England Saxons in June.
And after completing his Springbok comeback on Saturday, the beaming loose forward emphasised how much it meant to him to be back in the green and gold.
‘It’s great to be part of this environment again, the vibe is quite different to last year, and I think you saw in this game how we are really playing for each other. When the chips were down, we displayed real resilience and kept on grafting for each other, and that gave us the edge.
‘For me, personally, playing in the SA A side certainly gave me some confidence, and so when this opportunity to play for the Boks came around, I just knew that I needed to do whatever I could to make the most of it.’
Despite his injury setbacks and a tumultuous year in 2015, Mohoje said he never felt discouraged.
‘I couldn’t make any excuses, all I could focus on was on what I needed to get back, and to keep faith in what I was doing.’
And while some have questioned whether Mohoje has the all-round credentials to make the No 7 jersey his own, Coetzee insisted after Saturday’s encounter that he had no such doubts.
‘I’ve never felt there was a problem for us at blindside flank. We’ve got two No 6s in Francois [Louw] and Jaco [Kriel]. Then we’ve got Oupa at 7, with Siya out injured. But I didn’t pick Oupa because Siya was injured, but because I believe he can effectively play that role at 7.
‘He’s an out-and-out lineout specialist, he has a high work rate, and he’s also got good pace, and that’s what we want from our loosies. He showed why he was in winning sides against Australia and New Zealand in 2014, and there’s really no doubt he’s a quality player. He has had injury problems in the past, but we’ve seen what value he can add at blindside flank.’
Photo: Dirk Kotze/Gallo Images