Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, Springbok flyer S’BU NKOSI talks about his bond with Aphiwe Dyantyi, his quest to play on the end-of-year tour and the impact Swys de Bruin has had within the national fold.
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up your time in the national set-up?
S’bu Nkosi: I re-joined the Springbok squad for the home fixtures against Australia and New Zealand, having recovered from an ankle injury, and the atmosphere inside the camp was electric. It was the same environment that had I experienced during the June series in terms of high expectations and good preparation. It was an atmosphere where people were open to learning, willing to pull together as a team and go from strength to strength. In terms of expectations (as far as game time was concerned) I didn’t go to camp with that mindset. I arrived with an attitude of adding value where I could. (Nkosi didn’t take to the field for the final two rounds of the Rugby Championship). Cheslin Kolbe wore the No 14 jersey against the All Blacks in Pretoria and I think he was absolutely amazing. He has a big heart and a high work-rate. I have only got good things to say about him. At the end of the day, we are all there for the Springbok badge and if I can help Cheslin be a better player for the Boks, it’s a win for the team collective. Good competition makes for a healthy squad and that is what we want heading towards the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan... In terms of the haters who can’t handle a transformed national team, it’s not something that we think about in camp. We just go out to make the Springbok a proud badge to wear and people with negative energy can keep it to themselves. I’m proud of the fact that this team is representative of our very diverse country in terms of demographics. The Bok group is pretty much gelled, so captain Siya Kolisi doesn’t need to do that. He is just a nice figure for all of us to follow... Having the Springboks deliver strong performances week-in and week-out comes down to mental conditioning. Our structures are in place, our coaches are really good and it’s now a mental thing for the players. We need to pitch every single weekend because, having beaten the All Blacks, we have a sizeable target on our backs.
Sport24 asked: Are you keen to resume rivalries with England next month?
S’bu Nkosi: It will be nice to play against England again. (Nkosi featured in all three matches against the English during the June Test series and scored two tries). In terms of opponents I have faced in international rugby, England is the only team I have played against thus far. I really enjoyed the three-Test series against them and learned a lot from reviewing the matches. Testing out what I have learned against them would be such a bonus for me. Of course I have ambitions to be part of the Springbok squad to travel to the UK and France for the end-of-year tour next month. That is my goal for now - I just want to be in the squad - and playing a couple Currie Cup matches will allow me to prove myself and show that I’m worthy of wearing the Bok jersey. I plan on doing just that. A high work-rate and big engine is crucial in modern day wing play. You have to be in the right place to finish opportunities and you have to be in the right place to stop opportunities that the opposition might want to create. Being physically fit and well-conditioned means that you can think more clearly because you are not too worried about staying on the move. In terms of the role we play in the team, we do much more than wingers did 10 years ago. For argument’s sake, we cover the back field, are up high in the line at stages and sometimes also help out the defence from first-phase ball.
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up your kinship with Aphiwe Dyantyi?
S’bu Nkosi: As people, we are quite different outside the field of play. However, our personalities blend which is why we get along so well. We both possess an ambitious attitude, are well-spoken and outspoken when we need to be. It’s been great playing together and is always more enjoyable playing with people who you get along with off the field. I enjoy playing with Aphiwe very much. We have set goals and I know his and he knows mine. We are quite hard on each other because there is no such thing as a perfect performance. However, we drive each other to get as close as possible each game. Watching him achieve his goals is a joy for me. I was very proud of Aphiwe for finishing as the joint top try-scorer in the Rugby Championship with five tries. Scoring tries is a winger’s job. Five dot-downs in a six-match competition means your strike-rate is pretty good. In terms of having the experienced Willie le Roux at fullback, it has proved priceless for Aphiwe and I. You learn so much from Willie during the week and he puts you in the game before you even step on the field. It’s good to have a wise head around that has been there and done that. He has overcome past failures and can help prevent you from failing. Aphiwe and I are young, energetic and just want to step out of the blocks as quickly as possible the whole time. It’s good to have a cool head like Willie at the back to keep us calm. Some situations require composure and that is where Willie becomes very important for younger players like us. And visa versa, we bring a little bit more energy to him, so I think the Springbok back three has a very good balance to it. If Damian Willemse steps into Willie’s shoes for the end-of-year tour, he will bring an absolute X-factor to the field. If Damian gets game time on the November tour to the northern hemisphere it will afford him the opportunity to grow as a player heading towards the World Cup. He has a good rugby brain and with his fancy footwork, it should be of no great surprise that he is one of the better dancers, if not the best, in the Bok group!
Sport24 asked: What has Swys de Bruin added as Bok attack consultant?
S’bu Nkosi: It’s very special to work with coach Swys. He is intelligent and passionate about the work he does. Seeing him being that passionate, only gives me more drive. I did a lot of things as a professional rugby player and then I started working with Ccoach Swys. He is smart and started challenging me mentally and asking me: “Why do you do this and that?” I started growing as a player because I wasn’t only focused on results, but on process. His intelligence comes through in us and I think I will definitely grow as a player if I spend more time working on my attack with him. I was a big winger in school - I tipped the scales at over 100kg - and because of the way I used to play, I was nicknamed ‘Lomu’. However, the comparison to the great legend was taken out of context, which is why I don’t like the nickname too much. Every day, I’m trying to balance size with skill. I’m endeavouring to get better with ball in hand, read situations and improve my decision-making. The athletic part of my game is where I would like it to be, but in terms of ball in hand, I can still grow as a player and get better from a skills perspective. My kicking game can also improve and the key with kicking is knowing when to and having the composure to do so. I’m working on that in training with Braam van Straaten at the Sharks. We have been focusing on technical stuff like the movement pattern towards the kicking motion... I want to be excellent for the Springboks and do great things in the green and gold jersey. In order to emulate Beast (Tendai Mtawarira) and become a Springbok centurion, I will need to remain fit and free from injury, keep improving and continue evolving my game. If I keep those three elements in check, I believe I can play 100 Test matches for South Africa.
Sport24 asked: How have the Springboks embraced the rush defence?
S’bu Nkosi: In terms of the defence system Jacques Nienaber has put in place at national level, it’s basically about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s a very uncomfortable system and it needs players to make big calls at crucial times. We are, however, getting more and more comfortable with that discomfort. We know that we are going to make calls that will either make or break the game. It’s an adventure for me because every time there is a strike against us, it’s all in. You burn the ships and there is no opportunity for conservatism. It helps us grow as players because we learn to read the game better and we can plan two moves ahead. Instead of reacting, the current defensive system allows us to be proactive as players. (The Boks conceded 21 tries during the Rugby Championship, at an average of 3.5 tries per match, and ironically scored the same number of tries).
Sport24 asked: Who would be your dream dinner guests and why?
S’bu Nkosi: First and foremost, I would invite my mom Constance, who is my best friend. She plays a big role in my life and what happens around me. Hearing “good luck” from people means a lot, but hearing it from my mom just gives me a different energy because we have been through so much together. I’m not really a celebrity fanatic, but rapper Nasty C would crack an invite because I like his music. I would also extend an invitation to J’Something. The lead singer of Mi Casa makes great music and owns a restaurant, so I he could assist with the cooking. I like a good surf and turf and I would make a steak with pepper or mushroom sauce and include prawns or lobster. I’m not allowed to have any celebrity crushes but, hypothetically speaking, I would invite local actress Amanda du-Pont. The playlist for the evening would include Nasty C’s track ‘Legendary’ and Mi Casa’s ‘La Vida’.