Following the news that promising young prop forward Sabelo “Sabz” Nhlapo has decided to continue his career with the Sharks, rather than taking up an attractive offer to play Vartisy Cup rugby for Tukkies, Sharksworld caught up with the likeable front-ranker for a quick chat.
We started off with the regular fare – asking Sabz to explain how a lad from the somewhat unfancied Highlands North Boys High in Johannesburg ended up with the Sharks. ” Yes indeed… Highlands North Boys High… I was head boy 2006,” Sabelo confirms. “I got a bursary in 2002 because of my academics, if you can believe it… I’m from Joburg, grew up in Soweto. I made the Lions u16 schools side and then the SA u18 academy in 06. To be honest, I only started to take rugga seriously when I was selected for that Academy side that toured in Morocco in 06. My mentor at that time, Mr. Donald Ngwenya, advised me to go to the Sharks Academy, because I wasn’t being looked at in the Lions setup, so off I went… Rugby at Highlands wasn’t too strong, but the love of the game was massive and we did quite well in our year”
We asked Sabz if the Sharks offered him a junior contract right away. “No, just an academy bursary, though things got better when I made The SA u19 side in 2007. I never thought that I’d make it – I was up against big names – but somehow I managed! It ws tough, but I worked hard and it paid off… I was chosen at lock but ended up playing blindside flank at the tournament in every game from the bench. I didn’t get a lot of game time, but it taught me a lot and from there I was hooked! I wanted more…” That was the 2007 IRB Under 19 World Cup in Belfast, which New Zealand won by beating South Africa in the final.
We then spoke about the big change in Sabelo’s career – the move from the second row to the loosehead prop position. “I played Sharks under 21s in 2008, yeah. We had a dismal year though! I also played for the SA u20 side in Wales that year. I got back and managed to injure myself a week before the u21 competition began – was out for 8 weeks. That’s when the move to prop happened. I got a bit bigger when I was out so the coaches got ideas,” he laughs.
So how much is ‘a bit bigger’, exactly? Sabz chuckles, “I found myself weighing 115kgs after rehab and I was 108kgs when I got injured… I’m 117kgs now, although I was 122kgs before [Sharks conditioning coach] Mark Steele got hold of me!” We spoke about the transition to prop and whether Sabz found his height (at 1.95m, he’s tall for a prop) a disadvantage. “Nah, not at all,” he says, “Ettiene Fynn helped me out a lot than and and still is now. If it weren’t for him I don’t know where I’d be now. I was reluctant at first, but started loving it when I managed to improve a bit. It’s a major challenge, but that’s what makes it fun. My first game at prop was last year in a friendly against Border before the Vodacom Cup. I wasn’t meant to play but someone got injured and that’s how I got my first taste – after only 2months as a prop. I loved it! I played Vodacom Cup and under 21 at prop in 2009 – that was my ‘learning’ year, but I wanted to start every game. Dale Chadwick and I rotated quite a bit in the under 21 side.”
We let Sabz continue his story. “This year (2010) was frustrating. I played Vodacom Cup, got injured and then never managed to get back in. I put too much pressure on myself and I had my fair share of injuries that further frustrated me. Thank goodness for my club, College Rovers though, who kept me going. It was good to make the Sharks Currie Cup squad – I was in there the whole season, learning a lot from Plum and the others. I guess you can call it paying my dues! I don’t want to lie though, I was keen to play, but it didn’t happen for me this year. It got a little frustrating, especially when Eugene van Staden came in, but I had to constantly remind myself of the bigger picture. The props at that stage were Wiehahn [Herbst], Pat [Cilliers] and me. Eugene got in when I tore my hammy at practice two weeks before the Griquas game. I was gutted when it tore, because I was so close but yet so far. He’s a good player though; he made use of his chance and I’m happy for him.
Rob: Ah ok – didn’t realise that. So close and yet so far, hey
“As for Club Champs, well, it came at the right time. I was fit and had a point to prove to myself. That [Rovers] team was special and boy did we dominate! I just wanted to play well, everything else took care of itself.” Sabelo’s solid performances in that competition won him a few good reviews and, along with a number of other members of the Rovers team, he was offered the chance to relocate to Pretoria. “I was on my way to Tuks, because basically I’m at the stage where game time is key, wherever it might be and I thought Varsity Cup would be a super opportunity. That was until Plum intervened and convinced me to give it a go in Durban again. So here I am, fighting it out again!”
So what exactly did Plumtree say, we asked? ” It was intense – can we leave it at that? He didn’t make any promises. He just pointed out a few things to me and I reconsidered…”
So what is the goal for Sabz, now that he’s committed to making a success of things in Durban? “The goal is consistency; hard work and the rest will take care of itself… and to have that black and white jersey on my back. Working hard is the target, the rest I’ll put in Gods hands…”
We’d like to thank Sabelo for his time and wish him all the best for the 2011 season and beyond. Glad to have you back, Sabz!Tweet