Sacha Mngomezulu made a memorable debut for the title-winning DHL Stormers last season and followed that up by captaining an unbeaten Junior Springbok team. Now, the prodigious playmaker wants more.
Since being thrown in at the deep end of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship playoffs, it has been a whirlwind few months for Mngomezulu, who has already been likened to Springbok star Damian Willemse by his head coach.
The 20-year-old played nearly 70 minutes as an injury replacement in the quarter-final win over Edinburgh and went on to play off the bench in the semi-final victory over Ulster and the final against the Vodacom Bulls.
He was then appointed as Junior Bok captain and led the team on a successful U20 Summer Series campaign in Italy, where South Africa beat England, Ireland, France and Wales.
Mngomezulu’s early success is just reward for the talented sportsman’s decision to focus fully on rugby from the age of 16.
As a schoolboy at Bishops Diocesan College in Cape Town, Mngomezulu was an equally skilled footballer and part of the youth ranks at Ajax’s Cape Town division.
However, once he set his heart on rugby, there was very little stopping him. In 2019, he not only played for the Bishops U19A team as a 17-year-old, but he also represented Western Province’s U18 team and ran out for his country with the SA Schools Sevens.
While the national lockdown in 2020 robbed Mngomezulu of a crucial development year, he was called up to the SA Rugby Academy a year later and represented the Junior Springboks for the first time in a home series against Argentina, Georgia and Uruguay in Stellenbosch.
Mngomezulu finished the year playing for Western Province’s U20 team, but little did he know what lay ahead.
On 4 June 2022, an injury to Damian Willemse catapulted Mngomezulu into the reckoning and on to the Stormers’ bench for the quarter-final against Edinburgh in Cape Town. While the youngster would have been hopeful of getting a few minutes before the final whistle, he was thrust into action after just 13 minutes when Rikus Pretorius went down with an injury.
This meant that Mngomezulu, who had played limited minutes in the Currie Cup and was most comfortable at flyhalf, had a massive role to play in the remainder of a do-or-die knockout clash while on debut at inside centre.
True to character, Mngomezulu shook off his nerves and got stuck in, producing an almost tireless defensive performance.
Now in his first full season as a Stormers player, Mngomezulu is part of a golden generation of youngsters looking to become URC regulars.
“Sacha had an excellent pre-season and he has only grown from his experience with the SA U20s,” said Stormers coach John Dobson.
“To me, he is a clone of Damian Willemse. That’s in terms of his professionalism, his mentality, his physicality and his offloading skillset. We are really excited about him.”