Jongikhaya Nokwe admits to feeling just “a little bit nervous” on the eve of his first official Springbok cap – when he runs out in the No.11 jersey for South Africa against Argentina in the Mandela Tribute Test in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Nokwe, better known as Jongi to his growing band of fans, will finally realise his dream of starting an official Test … four years after he first became a Springbok.
Jan De Koning writes for Rugby 365 that back in 2004 he was taken on the year-end tour to Wales, Ireland, England, Scotland and Argentina – but he never got to play and became just another statistic, one of the players who held the tackle bags for others. In 2006 he again went on the year end tour to England and Ireland and this time actually got some game time – but as a replacement in a non-cap encounter against a World XV at Twickenham.
Now, another two years later, Nokwe will play in an official Test and finally he can feel those “pre-Test nerves” that is the privilege of Green and Gold club members.
“I’m elated at the opportunity and looking forward to Saturday, but I’m starting to feel a little bit nervous,” Nokwe told rugby365.com in an interview from the team’s base in Johannesburg.
While the “butterflies” may be fluttering for now, he is confident he will be up for what ever the Argentineans will throw at him.
“Once the game gets underway, I’ll be okay and the nerves will have settled,” the 26-year-old flyer told this website.
He has no doubts the Pumas, famous for their ‘high-kick-and-charge’ tactics, will see him as one of the players to target in the team.
“I know they will look at me as the newcomer and they will test me with the high ball,” he said, adding: “I’m sure they will launch a few high bombs on me, but I’ll be ready.”
The Bok flyer, playing in place of the injured Bryan Habana, knows that his opponents will regard his defence and his ability under the high ball as possible weaknesses.
However, mentor Hawies Fourie, the Free State Cheetahs backline coach, has been putting in long hours on those aspects of his game.
“He [Fourie] has played a huge role in my development,” he said of the man he first encountered at the Boland Cavaliers – where Fourie was head coach before moving to Bloemfontein to become the Cheetahs’ backline coach.
Having joined his mentor in Bloemfontein this year, Nokwe has reaped the benefits and are now a more mature and rounded player – not just the pure speedster that some people see him as.
“He [Fourie] knows what my strengths are, but he has also worked very hard on improving my weaknesses. Obviously my big strength is my speed and if I get the space I make sure I use my speed.
“However, people have said that my big weakness is the high ball, but I have worked a lot on that and also defence.”
Nokwe said he is not concerned that people might compare him to Habana, the man who’s position he will fill on Saturday.
“I’m just going to concentrate on playing my normal game.”
He described as “a really good decision” his move from Boland to the Cheetahs this year, after four years of struggling to break into the Test arena from the Wellington-based unit.
Yes, he did go on two tours, but he ran the risk of forever being known as the ‘tackle-bag man’ and not getting a Test cap – as his career started to stagnate in the Western Cape.
He could not even get into the Stormers squad and playing Super Rugby was the passage to the international stage.
“Part of the decision was the style of rugby they [the Cheetahs] play, but I also got an opportunity to play the entire Super 14,” he said, adding that it was important in terms of his own growth and confidence to play in the Super 14.
Nokwe, who has a personal best of 4.62 over 40 metres, finished as the second leading try-scorer in the competition even though his team won just one match. He scored seven tries in 10 starts.Tweet