Mind Games: Trevor Nyakane can’t miss the bus again

2013-08-26 10:00

The Free State Cheetahs turned Trevor Nyakane into a Springbok and now the Bloemfontein-based union has the responsibility of resurrecting his budding career and restoring him to the lofty heights of international rugby.

Coming so soon after the SA Rugby Union (Saru), always under government scrutiny to improve transformation, announced plans to intensify its quota regulations, Nyakane’s sudden axing from the Springbok touring team was bound to take on racial overtones.

Having been part of the squad for the three June tests and earning three test caps as a substitute, plus scoring his maiden try against Samoa, Nyakane’s unlikely journey to the top in rugby had all the trappings of a sporting fairy tale.

The boy from Limpopo, who came into contact with rugby at the Ben Vorster Hoërskool in Tzaneen and who was scouted by Free State rather than the Bulls, as one might have expected, had made good in

a foreign tongue and a somewhat alien game given his childhood love for the game his dad played – soccer.

But then came last Sunday morning and there was the shock announcement in a Springbok team press dispatch that Nyakane would not be boarding the plane to Argentina because of “repeatedly breaching team protocols”.

Unlike the booze-fuelled misdemeanours of Kurtley Beale and Zac Guildford (and some others) that have caused so many headaches for the Wallabies and the All Blacks, respectively, it seemed Nyakane’s transgressions were no more serious than regularly falling short on team duties,

but the final straw was missing the bus that took the Boks to OR Tambo.

Discipline in Springbok

sides is strict and the decision was made that Nyakane would stay home and a substitute prop would be drafted in to take

his place. It seemed a harsh punishment for a 24-year-old only just striking out in

his career and it raised the question in some quarters

over whether Heyneke Meyer would have been as severe on a white player.

The answer to that would be yes, he would have. Some years ago, Kitch Christie left star players James Small and André Joubert out of the test squad after late-night shenanigans in Port Elizabeth and Meyer clearly believed Nyakane also needed to be taught the idiomatically apt lesson that if you break the rules you’ll miss the bus.

So the young front row forward with the massive

smile, who endeared himself

to fans with his jig after scoring a try against Samoa, had to return to Bloemfontein to pick up the pieces.

Wisely, the union has moved to shield him from the media and is encouraging him to get back to work and “fix his mistake through his performance on the field”.

There is no doubt he has the talent to have a long career and that, with the help of the coaches who made him, he’ll be back, but his experience begs the question of whether sports bodies, not just rugby, do enough for youngsters whose gifts cause them to be propelled into the spotlight.

Saru has decided to turn the clock back a good few years by reinstituting the much-maligned “quota system”, but it is my contention that more needs to be done to give players the life skills needed to cope with the unforgiving mistresses of fame and fortune.

Obviously, I can speak only for the sports I know, but it is not good enough merely to teach talented youngsters to play a game – they also need to be taught how to cope with the demands of life in public.

It’s one thing to be a professional sportsman but quite another to be professional.

The roll call of Springboks is filled with players given a chance because of the demand for transformation – for instance the tragedy of a Solly Tyibilika – but who fell by the wayside.

What is needed is a mentorship programme that extends beyond a player’s late teens – instead of being thrown in the deep end and told to swim – they need to be looked after for longer, guided more wisely and be set up for life.

Nyakane made a mistake and will have to take the lashes, but it must not be allowed to happen again.

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