DRC-born wing Madosh Tambwe chats about his move to the Sharks and finding his place at Vodacom Super Rugby level in this interview with DYLAN JACK.
How have you settled in Durban, given that you have spent your whole life in Joburg?
It has been absolutely amazing. Great people and fantastic teammates have made my stay a pleasant one. Everyone is so friendly. I am only a couple of minutes away from the beach. So there is always something to do to get your mind off things. The lifestyle in Durban is not as hectic as in Joburg. Everything feels a bit more relaxed. The Sharks having such a fantastic run before the lockdown made things a lot sweeter for me.
Given your relationship with the Lions and Joburg, was it tough to leave the franchise?
There were a lot of emotions involved. Literally everything I knew, growing up, was in Johannesburg. The Lions played a big role in helping me kickstart my rugby career. I have been to Durban only for weekends when we played against the Sharks and it was the first time I would stay by myself, which was a bit scary and daunting because I was leaving my entire support system behind. On the other hand it was challenging and exciting. I was looking forward to something new. I felt at the time, I was going to have to make a tough decision, whether it was then or later in my career. I felt it was the right time to make such a decision so that in the future, if I have to make one or two more, I know how to go about it. The opportunity was of too great not to take it.
A lot was made about the fact that you would be playing behind Springbok World Cup-winners Sbu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi. How did you see that aspect?
I saw it as a massive, massive opportunity for me. At the Lions, I was fortunate enough to play among Springboks as well. An environment with Springbok guys was only going to benefit me. It was a fresh start and I needed to be positive. The only way I was going to play was to work a lot harder than I thought I was supposed to. I am just blessed to be able to play with those two. It has been amazing and we have formed a bond among each other. We learn from each other. We push each other so hard at training because we know how good all of us are. This only helps the union, because you have three world-class finishers in your team.
Was rugby your sport of choice at school?
I started off playing soccer. I played from U9 until U13 at Highlands Park. In between that I was also doing athletics for my primary school and went to district champs and nationals in Cape Town. Soccer was the thing for me. Then I got to high school and had to make an adjustment because you have to play a summer and winter sport. For my winter sport, I did athletics but I also was dragged into playing rugby so I didn’t get into trouble. At U15, I started taking rugby a bit more seriously. I was struggling with injuries so I took a break from athletics. I played for a Lions Invitational Team that year and made the Craven Week squad when I was 18.
How did the opportunity to play for the Lions come about?
I was still at school when I was playing Lions U19 and Joey Mongalo was the head coach. He had coached me several years before at the Lions Invitational side. He asked me what I was going to do with my life. I told him I didn’t get accepted into any varsities so I am just going to hope for the best. He said he was going to speak to the guys at the Lions to get me a schoolboy agreement, which wasn’t a contract. I went there with an open mind and Joey said that he was loving how I was training and said he would speak to the CEO [Rudolf Straeuli] to let me play even though I was on an agreement. A week later, I made my debut for the U19 side against the Cheetahs. I played every game that season and ended the season as top try-scorer. I then sat in the office with Rudolf Straeuli, coach Ackermann and they told me that they were going to give me a contract and I would have to join the Super Rugby pre-season at the end of the year. That was also on a training basis with no guarantee of playing. I wrote my matric finals on the Monday and the Tuesday I had to go to training. In January I got selected to play a few friendlies then I went down to join the SA U20 squad. I then had to come back to Joburg because the Lions called to say that I was going to make my Super Rugby debut.
What was it like running out against the Reds?
It was crazy. I don’t really have words for it. I still feel that it’s among the best moments of my rugby career. It is everything to me. That year, I managed to be within a moment that I had wanted my whole life, I wanted to be a professional athlete as a kid. To be in that position and see your dreams come true … you can’t put words to it. My father always says, you don’t know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. It was such a big occasion. I was so nervous my clothes were already wet before I got to the stadium. During the pre-match meal, Wazza [Warren Whiteley] told me the guys have my back and I didn’t have to worry. Having those words of affirmation from your captain made it even sweeter.
How was it for your family?
My mother cried, actually. She came on to the field and cried. I was almost on the verge of tears myself. I got back into the change room and my dad and my older brother, the rest of my family, started flooding my phone. Because I wasn’t on my phone for about three days before the game. I wasn’t allowing any distractions. My family were the only ones I spoke to after the game until that Wednesday. Afterwards, my dad said something to me that has been engraved in my mind. We get given everything in life, all the opportunities we want, it is up to us to make sure that those opportunities don’t go to waste. I have held that in my heart up until now. I don’t take any opportunity for granted.
In 2018, you made headlines by scoring four tries against the Stormers. What did that performance mean to you?
Before that game, in the buildup to that week, I wasn’t feeling myself. I had some personal stuff that was bothering me. So that game was a way for me to block out all the other things that I was running away from. That game helped bring some sort of peace into my heart. It happened so quickly, that by the end of the game I could not believe what had just happened. I had just scored the quickest hat-trick in Super Rugby history. It was a lot to take in. It took me about a week to settle on what had happened. Luckily, we had a bye weekend. It was such a great game. It also helped my confidence and belief that I was struggling with at that time. It was a reminder that I do belong at this level and that I am here because I have worked hard.
Are still aspects of your game that you can work on?
The beauty of it is that I am fortunate to have started my career at a young age. To see how I have been making progress from the player that I was in my first season is unbelievable. To be the player I want to be, there is always going to be room for improvement. There are always going to be a couple of things that I need to tweak a bit to take my game to the next level. You can never allow yourself to get into a position in any profession where you feel there is no room for improvement. For me, every season I keep managing myself to be a better finisher and defender than I was in the previous season.
*This feature first appeared in the latest SA Rugby magazine, now on sale!