Super Rugby

How an athletics scholarship led to Trevor Nyakane’s discovery

  • Springbok prop Trevor Nyakane was offered an athletics scholarship to attend Gravelotte Primary School before moving to Ben Vorster High School.
  • He used to run barefoot on gravel road at his first primary school, Leseding.
  • The tighthead started out as an outside centre before moving to the front row.

Springbok Trevor Nyakane's route to becoming a world class rugby player took a path not many would imagine - an athletics scholarship to a former Model C primary school.

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Speaking to South Africa's leading 100m sprinter Akani Simbine on Instagram Live, the Bulls vice-captain revealed that he was spotted running track for his old primary school, Leseding, against Gravelotte Primary School, and was offered an athletics scholarship to attend the latter.

"I was very quick," Nyakane told Simbine, amid cackles of laughter between the two internationally renowned sportsmen.

"The school where I started [my schooling] was opposite our house, across the street, and it was obviously a 'black school'. We used to run on the gravel road barefoot.

"It was still back in the days when 'black schools' couldn't compete against 'white schools'.  

"And when things changed, Leseding Primary School was allowed to go race against Gravelotte Primary School. Then the Gravelotte principal told my parents that he wanted me to come to that school because of athletics.

"When I got to Gravelotte they had rugby and all those sports, but I was mainly there because of athletics.

"One day they saw us playing a stupid game outside called 'open the gate' ... during the game I opted to run over people rather than side-stepping them. The principal was watching and he asked me to play rugby and that's how I started playing rugby."

From there, Nyakane was spotted by Ben Vorster High School rugby coach Andre Hay, who approached his parents about the possibility of moving to the school and playing rugby for them.

His path to destiny, which ended in Rugby World Cup glory in Japan last year, was sealed when he joined Ben Vorster, one of the top rugby schools in Limpopo.

"When I was in standard five (grade seven) a guy called Andre Hay, who saw me playing against a school near Ben Vorster, told my parents that he wants me to come to Ben Vorster for rugby," said Nyakane.

"I played Under-16 Craven Week for two years while I was there and in 2007 I made the SA Academy side. Eventually I got a contract from Free State when I was in matric and I moved to Bloemfontein after school."

Nyakane, 31, is one of a select few front-rowers with the dexterity of playing on either side of the scrum, after starting out professionally as a loosehead prop before becoming one of the eminent tightheads in the country.

But the young Nyakane was, in fact, a wannabe backline star who played outside centre when he started out in the game before gradually moving closer to the scrum as his physique took the form of a forward at Ben Vorster.

"In primary school I was an outside centre," he said.

"Slowly but surely I moved closer to the scrum and I ended up in the front row.

"The front row thing started in high school. I actually didn't want to do it but I had no choice at that time. In the early years I wanted to be a backline player and I wanted to be flashy and wear all the nice boots, so I didn't enjoy being a prop.

"As time went by I realised that I should focus on doing what I'm good at. "

Simbine also revealed he had dreams of being football star and playing for Kaizer Chiefs before being convinced to try athletics and excelling at it.

-  Compiled by Sibusiso Mjikeliso

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