Bobo rebounds

2008-08-08 14:45

London - Prior to the 2003 Rugby World Cup two of South Africa's most exciting centres missed the final call for boarding.

Gcobani Bobo was set to make his World Cup debut at the expense of Jean de Villiers. Bobo tore ligaments in his knee, so De Villiers was added to the World Cup squad.

In a warm-up match against the Falcons De Villiers damaged his shoulder, ending his World Cup prospects. Both centres have taken different paths, but now they've both, eventually, ended up together in the Western Province midfield. The Stormers skipper made it to the World Cup last year, but had his tournament stopped short through another cruel injury.

Bobo's return to the top has been a slower, more drawn out affair, but it's been worth the wait for Western Province fans. From the first black player to captain a South African team (SA Under-17) to leading Western Province in the Currie Cup this season, Bobo is recapturing the magic of five years ago.

Inconsistent appearances

The man in the middle of Western Province's midfield may have lost a yard or two of pace over the years, but during this year's Super 14, playing alongside Jean de Villiers, he proved that he's still up for the challenge.

After inconsistent appearances at the Sharks over the last two seasons - mainly through the numerous injuries he's suffered - Bobo finally managed to put a string of appearances together at the province he left for the Lions.

The Stormers, once they warmed up midway through the season, arguably had the most effective midfield of the South African Super 14 teams. With De Villiers's sniping breaks and Bobo's deft hands and destructive defence, the midfield duo both earned call-ups to Peter de Villiers's early season Springbok squad.

Jean de Villiers remains the attacking fulcrum of the Bok side, while Bobo was dropped for the Tri-Nations. Nevertheless, from near obscurity, to the Super 14 to international rugby to captaining Western Province - all in the space of six months - it's been a tremendous turnaround for the former schoolboy prodigy.

Homecoming King

"Playing again at a high level, and playing well, has been a pleasure," enthuses Bobo. Western Province have just gone down unexpectedly to Griquas in Kimberley, but it seems nothing is going to dampen the Province skipper's excitement for rugby in 2008.

"You go through such hard times when you're injured or out of the picture and sometimes you forget what it really is all about, but just having the chance to play again has been magic. I've been appreciating every single minute of it." Bobo's rehabilitation started on the Sevens circuit in 2007. He took part in Hong Kong, Adelaide, London and Scotland.

"I think the comeback definitely started last year when I played Sevens again. I think it was just one of those things that just happened. I felt that it was just mostly about an attitude change, to stop worrying too much about the end result and getting on with it."

The exercise in Sevens rugby not only gave Bobo a chance to experience international rugby again, but it also allowed him to flex the leadership capabilities that he's been known for since a schoolboy star.

"Ja, the Sevens offered a chance for me to start believing in myself again. It was great that they gave me a leadership role. That's something that always takes the most out of you so you can get the most out of yourself. It was nice being responsible and taking more control of what I do on the field. I enjoy leading a team. At the end you stand there and you have to stand up for your decisions, so you have to try to make the right decisions. And at least you are making decisions, which for me is an enjoyable aspect of rugby. I like doing it."

Storming back

Bobo left the Western Cape in the late 1990s to join the Golden Lions. After five years on the Highveld he made a move back to the coast, except this time it was to the east of South Africa. A spate of injuries (and being played out of place on the wing) never allowed the sturdy centre to settle in the Shark Tank.

But his move back to Cape Town still came as a surprise to many. Despite some detractors thinking him past his prime, Bobo became an instantly integral part of the Stormers backline and his Super 14 form was rewarded with a Bok recall and the Western Province captaincy.

"I have always been in a leadership role since I was young, Under-17 captaincy, Under-19s, my school captaincy and I was privileged last year to have captained the Currie Cup side with the Sharks. It's always good to have that responsibility."

His move to the Cape has also allowed him the chance to reinvigorate his game at the same pace as a franchise that was finding its feet in 2008.

"Being part of the Stormers set-up has been awesome in terms of personal goals. In terms of playing Super 14 and getting through the season with less injuries and getting a chance to play with such a good bunch of guys, it's been such a good vibe being back in the Cape. I've learned so much from Rassie Erasmus, Allister Coetzee and Brendan Venter. Everyone has been great in terms of technical and learning abilities and I've really grown as a person and as a player."

Best centres in the world

He's also playing alongside, perhaps, certainly from a South African perspective, the world's most outstanding centre.

"Jean De Villiers, he's one of the best centres in the world. He's been doing it for the whole season, I don't think he's missed a minute of rugby, it's amazing."

Bobo first met De Villiers in 2003. "It's funny that me and Jean are playing together this year because I remember in 2003 I tore ligaments in my knee and Jean did his shoulder the next week. We met up later in Australia during the 2003 World Cup for the England vs SA game and we were roommates. And now we've had a full season together. The guy's skill and his commitment and his professionalism you can see. He enjoys his rugby. I really admire his play and it's been great for me to have a chance to play with him. I've looked forward to it since I met him in 2003. I've been loving every minute of it."

Five years on and Bobo is enjoying his second lease on rugby life. Rugby fans around the country might have thought his glory days were long gone, but doubt was something that never held him back.

"I've never doubted myself or the fact that I might not make it back when I was injured. I think there were people who wanted me to feel like that but I've always felt that if you've got something that's burning inside you you'll be fine. I mean, my burning desire has always been to do what I can do and that is to play rugby. Most times when I couldn't even walk, that was what I was thinking about, imagining myself in a situation where I can come back again. I always think it's easier to make it the first time than it is to come back and make it again. I always wanted to come back and see how far I could take it. You never know unless you try."

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