Cape Town - It isn’t every day when a player says he feels “boxed in” that it doesn’t sound like a cliché in modern sports. But a closer look at Golden Lions No 8 Hacjivah Dayimani and you will quickly realise that he certainly doesn’t fit in any box at all.
After all, in the cosmopolitan world of South African sport there are few with a backstory like Dayimani, the tall, lanky speedster who could easily be at home in the backline as he is in the forwards.
Dayimani has never really fitted into any box that has been created for him. Born of a Xhosa mother, who is a domestic worker and sangoma, and a Nigerian Jewish father, Dayimani considers himself Jewish, has immense athletic ability and has overcome so many obstacles that few of his teammates realise the path he has trodden to the Currie Cup.
With dreams of becoming the next Bryan Habana, Dayimani’s journey has taken him from the football fields of Cape Town where he played goalkeeper for a junior side at Vasco da Gama, to the dusty streets of a shack outside Cradock, to joining his father in Jozi because his grandmother could no longer afford his school fees.
From there he discovered his love of rugby, under the watchful eye of his father – a Sabbath-observing Igbo Jew – and ended up, of all places, at Hoërskool President. With speed to burn and a natural affinity for the game, he was spotted at school by Jeppe Boys High and offered a scholarship, setting him on the road to becoming a rugby star.
It’s a hunger that he hasn’t lost since, and while he didn’t make the SA under-20 side, his prowess was on display for the SA Sevens side that won the Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa.
Dayimani last recorded his time over the 100 metres at school, but then ran a blistering 10.6 seconds over the distance, putting him in the same league as many of the wingers he comes up against. But for a No 8 the time is incredible.
He has slowly carved a way out for himself into the Super Rugby squad, enhanced his reputation throughout and is keen to finally get a chance in the Currie Cup to show just what he is worth.
“I see this Currie Cup season as an improvement season, a chance for me to improve. Like the coach said to me, this is the time to show myself, what I have and I’m using this opportunity to showcase my talent because I know I can do better, work harder and showcase my skills,” Dayimani said.
“In Super Rugby I was a bit in a box and this is more the time to express myself.”
And Dayimani is the last one who likes to be put in a box.
“I had guys with bigger names ahead of me – guys like Warren Whiteley and Cyle Brink, so I was trying to show what I can do. I was trying to do what they can do, try to be physical and try to steal ball like Malcolm Marx. I feel like I wasn’t playing my game, and now I feel more confident because I have coaches backing me,” he explains.
“I learn from everyone basically. I am close to Warren and Cyle. I try and bring something from everyone because rugby has evolved. It is not just forwards carrying the ball up. You are also expected to pass and take the guys on out wide. I learnt from guys like that, I look up to a lot of guys like Ardie Savea, Warren Whiteley, Cyle Brink and I try to take a bit from everyone.”
Now an integral part of the Lions campaign, he feels the pressure to perform. But while that may burden others, it drives a hunger inside of him to succeed and get out on top.
“So basically this competition, I find it very tough because every guy is trying to show the Super Rugby coaches what they can do. What I have to do, is play chess, show where the space is, find loopholes in the system and exploit that,” he adds.
“Previously what I did was try to play a game that wasn’t mine. Try to be physical, try to be everywhere but I thought let me just stick to my strengths, stay out wide and take on the backs and exploit the space specifically. I think that is where I am good at and that is where I will stay.
“I find this very tough, tougher than last week because right now everyone is expecting me to perform and score more tries, and take on more guys out wide. So there is more pressure on myself and what I need to do now is block out all the noise outside and just play my game.”
As Bryan Habana’s 2007 Rugby World Cup dives inspired his heroics to join the sport where he previously thought rugby was NFL with all the padding and helmets, Dayimani has always loved it in space where he can put his explosiveness to the test.
But now that he has had the taste of the big time, he wants to go further, and knows he can improve significantly if he wants to reach the top. And while many still consider physicality the cornerstone of any self-respecting South African forward, Dayimani believes differently. Making the hit, stopping your man is what counts, and when you have the ball, make some magic.
“I feel like I can improve by at least 60 percent. It may not look like that from outside, because guys see me score the tries but the coaches know the weaknesses and every day at training I try to get closer to my goal,” he smiles.
“Basically we don’t have a system where you have to be big or small. We have a principle that you have to make your hit, and make it a positive hit. If you are going to cut legs, if you are going to take the guy, just make your hit.
“To me physicality was never a problem when I came to the Lions – I thought it was – but when I spoke to the coaches and they made me realise they don’t care about size. I’m more focused on playing exciting rugby through the system.”
Dayimani may look like the typical rugby player, but there is a deeper side. A side looking for more meaning, for purpose. And a hunger to succeed.
“It’s easy to get to the top, it’s another thing to stay on top. Always remember the wolf on the hill is not as hungry as the wolf climbing the hill. The underdog will always be working hard to catch up,” he told the SA Jewish Report in a long-forgotten article.
“Hardship has made me strong and has given me a hunger,” and at 1.89m and 110kg, who is to argue.
Dayimani is the new breed of modern-rugby forward. With a history and a back-story that would inspire many others, he now has his sights focused on changing attitudes to his play, enjoying his explosiveness on the field without being held back and continuing an upward path that could very easily see him in the Green and Gold in the next few years.
And considering all this, is it any wonder that Dayimani feels constrained when he is “boxed in”. It’s clear that boxes don’t fit his mould at all. In fact, as a free-ranging, fast No 8 with the speed of a wing and the size of a forward, he fits few boxes at all.
But that’s exactly the point. It’s time to let him create his own legacy, and show that a one-size fits all approach never works in modern sport.
It’s time now for this unique talent to shine.
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