Super Rugby

High-flying Mapimpi a 'hero' to Sharks team-mates

Makazole Mapimpi (Gallo)
Makazole Mapimpi (Gallo)

Cape Town - The Sharks have started off 2020 in flawless fashion with wins over the Bulls (23-15, Durban) and the Highlanders (42-20, Dunedin) leaving them perched near the summit of the Super Rugby table. 

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There is, of course, a long, long way to go, but early indications are that the Durbanites have more than a couple of reasons to be excited about their side this season. 

The backline stands out with a pair of 2019 Rugby World Cup champions in captain Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi leading the charge.

Those two, having combined to score the Springboks' first try against England in last November's Yokohama final, have come back to Durban with their lives changed forever, but with their feet firmly on the ground.

Then, at half-back, the Sharks have the experience of scrumhalf Louis Schreuder complementing the raw talent of flyhalf Curwin Bosch while Am is flanked by long-time partner Andre Esterhuizen in midfield. 

One of the most exciting components of this backline, however, has come in the form of 22-year-old Aphelele Fassi

Born in King Williams Town - as was his captain Am - Fassi has the world at his feet. He has been in devastating form over the two matches to date, with his extreme pace and silky stepping contributing towards two tries against the Highlanders. 

Mapimpi also crossed the tryline twice in that match, maintaining his remarkable try-scoring record in professional rugby. 

Also a product of the Eastern Cape, Mapimpi's star has risen exponentially and he now finds himself a role model for the likes of Fassi and the rest of what is a largely young Sharks squad. 

"Mapimpi's work rate on the field is amazing," Sharks coach Sean Everitt said from New Zealand on Tuesday ahead of Saturday's clash against the Hurricanes in Wellington. 

"If you look at the first try that he scored, he came from deep in the '22 and the ball was nowhere near him.

"He senses blood and then he chases it and that gives the team a lot of confidence.

"Our guys look up to players like that. Mapimpi won the World Cup and scored a try in the final, so he's a bit of a hero among the boys."

Fassi, meanwhile, is a player that Everitt says is starting to show the right signs after a lot of work on his game. 

"Those two guys are really important to us from a flair and excitement point of view," he said. 

"Aphelele this year has brought a bit of a balance to his game. He's been developing his kicking game as well when last year he was mainly running the ball back.

"That has given us other options and made him a bit more unpredictable."

With seven tries in two games - and six of those coming from backline players - the Sharks have been playing some entertaining rugby that at times has been unrecognisable from the forward-heavy style they dished up under former coach Robert du Preez. 

"If the weather remains the same, hopefully we can unleash our backs again," Everitt added.

"We've got a lot of team spirit in this group."

Kick-off on Saturday is at 08:05 (SA time).  

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