- Dynamic loose forward Tim Agaba talks about aiming to impress Bulls boss Jake White and seeing competition for places as a blessing and not a curse.
- The ex-Blitzbok shares his views on mental health awareness within professional sport and why he feels more can be done to tackle the topic.
- He also reveals Mike Tyson has served as a source of inspiration, in terms of the way he turned his life around, and is keenly awaiting his comeback.
Sport24 asked: How have you tackled lockdown physically and mentally?
Tim Agaba: Interestingly enough lockdown for me has actually turned out to be quite a blessing. As uncomfortable and unusual as the situation has been, it has actually turned out to be quite a good experience for me personally. I have grown mentally and recovered physically. I headed into lockdown with a neck problem but found it fun to explore the different forms of rehab. Without being able to visit a physiotherapist, I had to become quite creative and do plenty of research if I wanted my neck to be able to withstand 80 minutes of rugby ever again. Being afforded so much time during lockdown, I also got into the teachings of Eastern philosophy which are hard to comprehend until you’ve studied them. Tapping into my emotional and psychological self has proved a personal growth point.
Sport24 asked: Why is vulnerability stigmatised within sporting circles?
Tim Agaba: It’s one of the sad parts of sport. There is an element of machoism that has got to be there because ultimately the game of rugby is not for the faint-hearted. You can’t go in with any subtlety on the field of play. You have to have a certain kind of character if you want to get into the sport but, at the end of the day, we are all human. We all go through emotional times and those traumas count the same for rugby players as they do for everyone else. In that sense, we as rugby players aren’t as hard as people might think. I believe it’s important to speak about these subjects because it’s apparent that mental health is a serious issue among professional athletes in general because of the lifestyles that they lead... I recently watched the Aaron Hernandez documentary. He suffered from CTE which is a neurological disease that a lot of athletes involved in contact sport acquire through multiple concussions and head trauma. The physical informs the mental and it’s important to express yourself fully to someone - be it a teammate or someone within the team environment. (Hernandez went from being an NFL star to a convicted killer). Sadly support systems don’t really exist in professional sport as abundantly as I think they should.
Sport24 asked: Your take on Jake White’s introduction at the Bulls?
Tim Agaba: So far Jake is really just getting a feel for things and I haven’t had much personal contact with him. However, his history and success speaks for itself. When you meet him you understand that he really is a go-getter. When he’s got a job to do, he really wants to get it done. He’s here to put the structures in place so that the Bulls deserve to become the union they once were. I think he is the perfect person to get that done because from the little bit that I have seen, his character is one that strives to win. Jake has brought in some really good players in the same position as me but I see competition as a good thing. It can only bring out the best in the team as a whole and if I have stronger competition it means that I’ll be out there with better players. If I don’t manage to fit the mould Jake wants on a certain Saturday then so be it. The fact of the matter is that a player is at the mercy of his coach and I will do what I can to at least persuade him enough in order to be selected. I will control what I can and the rest is up to the universe which is the way it is…. My move to the Bulls in 2017 was a big one coming from the Sevens system. I had never actually lived inland before until I made the move to Pretoria so it was quite a change of scenery. However, being a Bulls player is really special and the franchise is a well-established and proud entity.
Sport24 asked: Best loose forwards you've played with and against?
Tim Agaba: Duane Vermeulen would be up there for sure as the best I’ve played with. He is special and you can’t compare him to anyone else. He’s 34 but I still think he’s got a lot left in him. He’s not aging in a negative way at all and he’s actually getting better which is hard to be believe because he was such a special player in the first place. The fact that he earned the Man of the Match award in the World Cup final against England is a sign that it doesn’t seem like he will be stopping anytime soon. In terms of the best loose forward I’ve played against, I would have to say Siya Kolisi. I’ve faced Siya a few times and I admire the leader and rugby player that he is. Sharing the field with him was, is and always will be special. For some to say that Kolisi’s play doesn’t match his captaincy is certainly ridiculous. To be a Springbok it goes without saying your playing merit is number one. Siya’s merit speaks for itself and you don’t walk into a Springbok team just to be a captain. If you think about it that is a false sense because all the players around him are captains in their own right. Siya is a collaborative captain, which speaks even more to the type of man and player he’s become.
Sport24 asked: Your assessment of the Black Lives Matter movement?
Tim Agaba: It has been really cool to see the whole world embrace the movement. Sometimes we tend to feel that it’s more of a black issue, whereas when you look at clips of the protests in the streets in the United States you see large groups of white people. White people protesting in the streets on behalf of black people is powerful. What I like is this movement has veered away from being black or white and is rather about what is right and wrong. For me, it’s about having a moral compass and standing up to something that is clearly wrong. I feel this fight is one that has become more political than civil. At the end of the day, we are not really fighting against each other and it’s more of a political issue as our leaders in most cases have let us down in certain areas. The issue has been illustrated in America but everything trickles down from the first to the third world. The way they treat this issue will definitely filter into the third world. We can’t really compare our situation in Africa to America but in the grander scheme of things they are sort of the same problem. We need to treat them the same in order for us to become more progressive than regressive… I was born in Uganda and those roots are very close to me. My heart is quite South African now and having represented the country at sport makes it that much more special. I don’t speak any African languages fluently and that can become a problem in terms of xenophobia. Luckily I haven’t dealt with xenophobia first-hand but it’s a sad reality.
Sport24 asked: Three dream dinner guests. Who would you choose?
Tim Agaba: Mike Tyson would definitely have a seat at the table. He is the best boxer that has ever walked the planet and is still going. He will fight Roy Jones Jr. on 12 September in an exhibition match at the age of 54, which epitomises a real athlete to me. Tyson retired professionally years ago but he’s still Iron Mike. Many great athletes retire and lose their greatness because they stop living that life. Tyson, however, literally hasn’t stopped. Outside the ring, he was obviously no saint. He wasn’t a reputable person and someone you would want to look up to in terms of some of the things he was guilty of doing. However, what’s great about Tyson is that is has repented to the world and has completely changed the character he once was. I would also invite ex-NFL star Ray Lewis. The 45-year-old, who enjoyed a 17-year career, is an all-round inspiration. He walks the talk and would definitely have some inspiring things to say on the night. My third guest would be Barack Obama. He would bring stability and wisdom to the table. There is turmoil at the moment in terms of the leadership in the States and it’s quite obvious that Obama is missed in the White House.