United Rugby Championship

EXCLUSIVE: Lions flanker Vincent Tshituka chats to Sport24

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Lions loose-forward Vincent Tshituka
Lions loose-forward Vincent Tshituka
Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images
  • Dynamic Lions loose forward Vincent Tshituka, who has set the United Rugby Championship alight, talks about his citizenship fight and his dream of playing for the Boks.
  • The player, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but who has lived almost his whole life in South Africa, discusses the Springboks’ back-row depth and idolising Pieter-Steph du Toit.
  • The 23-year-old, who cut his teeth playing for UJ in the Varsity Cup, also reveals whether he holds future ambitions of playing abroad and how much longer he has left on Lions contract.

Sport24 asked: How do you assess three Man of the Match awards in four weeks?

Vincent Tshituka: I can only say I’m grateful to God to be honest because what has happened to me doesn’t happen all the time. Playing rugby has opened up doors that my family and I never saw happening. Earlier in the year I sustained a shoulder injury and was out for a couple of games and I have worked hard to regain my form. My biggest priority was to get my form back, and to have been chosen for three URC Man of the Match awards has meant the world to me. But I always say that when the team performs it allows you to perform and express yourself to the best of your ability. Generally you can only win Man of the Match prizes when you win games. Us coming together and winning these games also made a massive difference.  More than anything the turnaround in results was down to gelling and committing to the defensive system that coach Jaque Fourie had in store for us. We continue to improve each week and I believe we haven’t reached our ceiling yet and there is more to come. When it comes to the finer details of the defensive system we employ, we work hard on our line integrity and spacing. We get off the line but we still hold our feet and stayed connected.

Sport24 asked: How long is your contract with the Lions and is overseas an option?

Vincent Tshituka:  My heart is red and don’t think it will be anything else. I have been at the Lions for a very long time and everything I am right now is because I’ve gotten the opportunity here. There is a desire to see what else the world has to offer and to test myself in different environments and conditions at some stage in the future. There is that curiosity inside of me that wants to explore but my heart will always be red and for now it remains so. My contract with the Lions Rugby Union runs until December. My agent has a lot on his plate but I always tell him that’s why he gets paid to handle it. Anything off-field, I say to him, “Listen, here’s the pressure it’s on you,” and then from my side, I handle the pressure between the four white lines. My dream and aspiration is to play for the Springboks and to compete in international rugby at the highest level. There is no greater honour as an athlete or sportsperson than representing your country at the highest level. That’s my immediate goal and I want to give myself the best chance at it first before I explore (overseas options) just yet.

Sport24 asked: Have you been in conversation with the national coaching set-up?

Vincent Tshituka: Yes but not in terms of the national alignment camps which are coming up because of my citizenship issue. (Tshituka was urged to apply in early 2021 but due to lockdown restrictions, the Department of Home Affairs was not accepting any new applications for permanent citizenship). That does make things a bit difficult but Jacques (Nienaber) has always made his an open door policy for me to come with questions and he is always ready to offer me advice and give tips. He has shared with me in terms of what I can build on within my game and where I can grow. The entire management has been approachable and have definitely kept an eye on me. They have been really good to me and I have been in talks with them. The citizenship issue as it currently stands puts us at a standstill but I’m okay with that because it’s one step at a time and I’m fighting my way there. I have people that I’m working with to fight for my citizenship. That’s about it right now and we’ll take it one day at a time. When it’s sorted out it will be an honour to be eligible to be selected. Just because you’re eligible doesn’t mean you’ll become a Springbok but I want the opportunity to get to join the ranks. I was born in DRC but have essentially been in SA my entire life.

Sport24 asked: How would you measure competition for the Bok back-row?

Vincent Tshituka: One thing South African rugby has never been short of is talent and ability in the back-row. For me, it’s one of the reasons that I’ve continued to push myself because the standard is so high. That is the standard I hold myself to if that makes sense. I’ve got three brothers and competiveness is all we know. When it comes to the game, I just want to compete with the best. In terms of quality back-rowers, South Africa does have the best and the back-row duel is highly competitive. That’s exactly how it should be and how I like it. In terms of playing style, I believe I’m more of a Pieter-Steph du Toit-type of player than in the mould of Kwagga Smith. In my junior years, Pieter-Steph was one of the guys I kept an eye on because I felt his style of rugby matched mine the most. I saw what he did well and tried to replicate that with a lot of my own interpretation on it as well.  I take as much good as I can from everybody – be it Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi or Kwagga – but if there was anyone who matches my style of play the most it would definitely be Pieter-Steph.

Sport24 asked: Who are the toughest back-rowers you have ever faced?

Vincent Tshituka: Duane would definitely be there as he is as hard as nails. He carries and tackles hard and brings a physical presence to the field that not many eights can. The others would be Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Ardie Savea. In terms of Notshe, he was unbelievable in Super Rugby 2020. I have always thought that he is a really great player but at times in 2020 for me he was untouchable. Everything he did was magical. When I watched him at the time, I said to myself, “If I can catch form like that it would be insane.” Ardie is an extremely explosive ball-carrier and his ability with ball in hand is top-tier. They are all world-class for different reasons… I also have to make mention of one of the toughest players I have played with. He may be smaller than most South African back-rowers but Kwagga Smith is one of the best loose forwards I have played with. He is the definition of giving 100% of himself all the time. Every opportunity he gets he gives the most. He is strong, fast and agile. To count him out because of his size would be crazy but I can’t judge people who have felt that way because before I played with him I could understand where they were coming from. However, the moment you play with him you see for yourself that he’s world-class and really one of the best.

Sport24 asked: Why do you regard Rassie as a brilliant coach and mentor?

Vincent Tshituka: What I like about Rassie is that he is a raw and honest coach. You never have to doubt his word, which is his bond and the same applies to Lions coach Cash (van Rooyen). As a player there is nothing that you want more from a coach than honesty – even if it’s not good news. I hear that the Springboks have done away with one-one-one meetings and team announcements are done in front of the whole group. I like that level of transparency because everybody gets the same message. It creates alignment and unity in the squad. Like Rassie, Cash has been very honest with us and the team is announced in front of everybody so it’s an open setting. Cash has created a safe space where everybody can be themselves and his open door policy allows players to ask questions if they feel decisions are unjust. As head coach, Cash specifically bears the brunt of everything so I’m happy that we could turn things around for him. What we are doing now isn’t anything he hasn’t believed in or he is in shock of to be fair. It’s just that we’re now producing the results that he wants.

Previous interviews:

Frances Tiafoe

Marc Pritzen

Vlok Cilliers

Dion O'Cuinneagain

Scott Spedding

Nic Groom

Dane van Niekerk

Dave Nosworthy

Swys de Bruin

Brett Schultz

Percy Montgomery

Alan Solomons

Josh Strauss

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