In 2013 Trevor Nyakane was sent home and dropped from the Springboks’ squad because of issues with his discipline. But in 2019 he will anchor South Africa’s scrum at the World Cup in Japan, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
Nyakane has always been a jovial fellow and a rugby player who plays the game with a smile as wide at the N1 between Cape Town and Johannesburg. There has even been the occasional little dance when he or a teammate scored a try.
But behind the smiles and the little dances at the start of his career was a genuine rugby talent. A new breed of loosehead prop who was scrumming the living daylights out of the opposition, but also carrying the ball like a loose forward.
It led to his Springbok selection in 2013, and big things were expected from the then 24-year-old prop.
However, his discipline let him down and didn’t seem like a responsible sportsman. The sort who would become a master of his craft.
Nyakane first missed his flight from Bloemfontein to Johannesburg to join up with the Springboks in camp. He was then found to be overweight and unfit. On another day he overslept and arrived 15 minutes late for a team video session, before missing another flight with the team after also not arriving back in time with a sponsor’s car.
Former Bok coach Heyneke Meyer dropped Nyakane from the squad, but said he hoped that the player would pull himself together and not waste his talent.
‘I really believe in him; he is a youngster and is a great team guy. I also told him that he needs to look after his discipline otherwise he can’t play for South Africa,’ Meyer said back in 2013.
Six years on and he seems to have learned from those adolescent-like mistakes, while also making the difficult switch from the loosehead to tighthead.
It’s a move many people initially criticised and objected to, as he struggled to make his mark in that position. But like all things in his life, he took on the challenge with a smile and is now enjoying the last laugh.
His stocks are at an all-time high point at the moment following an effort to develop more tightheads after a raft of quality No 1s came through over the last five years.
Coenie Oosthuizen, Thomas du Toit and Nyakane were all switched to the right side of the scrum to build some depth in the position, but also to create a new, more dynamic breed of No 3 who could get around the park just as effectively as they could scrum.
Oosthuizen was the first one to make the step up, but serious injuries over the last few years really crushed his hopes of getting to Japan. His misfortune handed Nyakane the chance to step into the breach and he made his performances count.
Gone are the days when a tighthead was just on the field to scrum. Yes, this remains their core responsibility, but carrying, making tackles and cleaning rucks are now a bigger part of their job description.
Nyakane has always been a solid carrier, but this year he has turned into a formidable operator at scrum time and a player whose work-rate has gone through the roof in 2019.
He started to showcase his wonder ability to scrum at tighthead in this year’s Super Rugby, before showing his all-round game in the Rugby Championship, where he finished as the top tighthead.
He forced the opposition into nine scrum penalties, while he also made 30 tackles in the competition – the most by prop. Half of those tackles came in an unbelievable effort again Argentina in Salta last weekend when he made a game high 15 tackles. This after he didn’t even make it past the 60-minute mark in the match.
Nyakane has come along way from the days of oversleeping and missing flights.
Now, he should be the first one boarding the plane to the World Cup.