- Joey Mongalo is joining Jake White at the Bulls after nearly a decade at the Golden Lions.
- The 35-year-old was nearly lost to rugby thanks to a career in marketing.
- Mongalo had spent his playing days at Loftus, which he calls the 'heartbeat of SA rugby'.
He is just 35-years-old, but Joey Mongalo has already carved out a reputation for himself as one of the most highly-rated defence coaches in South African rugby.
Now, after nine years of coaching at the Lions, he has taken the next step in his career by joining Jake White at the Bulls.
It is somewhat of a homecoming for the former Junior Springbok utility back from the class of 2006 that made the final of the U-21 World Championships, having spent his playing days at Loftus Versfeld.
Mongalo's one and only Currie Cup cap for the Blue Bulls came in 2007 under Pote Human and, after that, he decided his rugby career wasn't going anywhere, focusing instead on his studies and a career in marketing.
"I had finished my degree and at that point I thought I was done with rugby," Mongalo tells Sport24.
"The Bulls gave me a shot to do a year of marketing with them and the year after that, I went to work for Vodacom, also in marketing."
At that point, Mongalo could very easily have disappeared into the corporate world, but by 2010 he was back in the game and operating a kicking academy out of the University of Pretoria. That opened the door to a job at the Golden Lions as a team manager, but Mongalo did not know then that he would make the move into becoming a defensive specialist.
"In 2011 at the Lions, (U-19 coach) Hans Coetzee gave me an opportunity to play around with his defence," Mongalo says.
"I ended up having a dual job - I was part-team manager and part-defence coach.
"When I came in, I saw that nobody was really focusing on defence. I loved defence from my time at the Bulls under John McFarland.
"I saw it as an avenue for me to potentially carve out a coaching gig at the time."
In that 2011 year, the Golden Lions won the U-19 Currie Cup under Coetzee with another one of White's coaching acquisitions in 2020, Russell Winter, operating as the forwards coach.
Over the years, Mongalo worked his way through the youth structures and developed as a defensive specialist. By 2018, he was filling that role with the senior side that progressed to the Super Rugby final for the third time in as many years.
After nearly a decade at the union, Mongalo has now hopped across the Jukskei and is ready to embark on the White era at Loftus with the 2007 World Cup winning Springbok coach now the Director of Rugby at the Bulls.
Mongalo and White share an agent in Craig Livingstone.
"Jake asked me to send him documentation about how I thought about the game - attack and defence - so I just made the best possible presentations I could make. We were just chatting back and forth and that's how the relationship started," Mongalo says.
"The Lions have been really good to me. I had a good stint there and had strong relationships with various coaches and players.
"I was doing a study, watching how coaches have developed and how all of them have coached in various environments. I can only learn so much in one environment and I have to go and look at a different normal. This came at the right time and now I get to work in a different system."
Mongalo does still have ambitions to become a head coach - he led the Golden Lions to back-to-back U-19 Currie Cup wins in 2016 and 2017 - but, for now, he is poised to soak up as much as he can from White.
"I'm 35-years-old and I have 10 years of coaching behind me, but I am still super young," he says.
"In the current environment where Jake has 40 years of coaching experience and he's coached in four or five different countries successfully, all I can do is take out a Dictaphone and a diary and note everything that I can learn from home. I am in a very fortunate position where for the next three years I can sit under him and learn.
"In the back-burner head coaching is definitely there and in my goal for the end, but for now I have so much to learn in my own trade - defence - and then to watch a head coach run a system will be privilege."
Mongalo officially starts with the Bulls on July 1, and while the current climate of the national lockdown will be challenging, he is raring to go.
"There is nothing stopping me from watching as many videos as possible or speaking to players," he says.
"There is quite a bit that can be done and that is in our hands. I'm seeing it as an exciting time to build relationships in a way we haven't before. There is a lot of opportunity."
When rugby does eventually return, Mongalo is relishing the prospect of returning to what he considers a magical place in the South African rugby landscape.
"I don't think I can find the appropriate words. The pride of the people and the city ... there is just such a great culture there made up of proud institutions like Affies and Tuks," he says.
"When I think of the people of Pretoria, I think of people who take pride in themselves and what they do.
"When I bring it closer to Loftus, it is a special, special place. I know it's a cliché, but when the Bulls are doing well, the Springboks are doing well.
"It's almost the heartbeat of South African rugby, in a sense."