‘Weekend Special’ Aphelele Fassi has got his groove back at Sharks

Sharks fullback Aphelele Fassi screams in delight after scoring a try in the Challenge Cup final against Gloucester. Photo: AFP

Sharks fullback Aphelele Fassi screams in delight after scoring a try in the Challenge Cup final against Gloucester. Photo: AFP

Published Jun 8, 2024


There was a moment towards the end of the Sharks’ recent match against the Bulls in Durban where Aphelele Fassi would have been forgiven for patting himself on the back.

Bulls wing Canan Moodie had run most of the length of the field and was about to score when the flying Fassi well tackled him.

Defence, you understand, has not always been one of his strengths – and it was an area that he knew he had to fix if he is to get a Springbok recall.

It had been in the Boks’ Test loss to Wales in Bloemfontein in 2022 where Fassi was exposed, and he returned to Durban with a list of things to work on.

That recall is surely on the cards, and Rassie Erasmus can only be pleased with how the ‘Weekend Special’ has done the homework the Bok coaching staff gave him in Bloemfontein.

Fixing his defence and developing his kicking game were two items on the list, and they are currently two of the best parts of Fassi’s expanded game – so much so that earlier this week, he was named the Sharks’ Player of the Year.

The 26-year-old said in an interview with Independent Newspapers yesterday that he is pleased that his hard work has paid off.

“The most important thing for me was that I had a proper pre-season to work on some things, and then I have at last managed to have an injury-free season,” Fassi said.

The pacy fullback said he is grateful to attack coach Dave Williams and defence coach Joey Mongalo for turning weaknesses into strengths.

“Before the pre-season, I sat down with the coaches and we had the hard conversations,” Fassi said.

“Joey said that for me to do what I want to do on the rugby field requires me to stand up for myself, and take the action required to equip myself. That meant hitting tackle bags three days a week. It meant one-on-one drills until we had sorted it out. Literally putting in the hard yards was extremely helpful.

“Dave on attack was very good in encouraging me to back myself and have a go. Both of them worked on my confidence.

“Joey has helped me get a better balance in my game by teaching me to kick properly, and also to know when to kick.”

Fassi has developed a monster left boot, and has produced some memorable 50-22 kicks this season.

“My kicking game has really improved. As a player, you do not want to be predictable, and being able to kick well gives you another weapon. We want to put the ball in front of those huge forwards of ours.”

Fassi has been one of the most consistent Sharks players this year. He was there at the beginning in the nightmare days of the United Rugby Championship, and he was at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium when it turned to gold with the Challenge Cup final triumph over Gloucester.

“The struggle we had at the beginning of the season was a lack of confidence,” Fassi reflected. “We were conceding soft tries – we call them baby tries – and we were losing by small margins. That becomes a habit.”

Fassi said he recalls the exact moment when the change in fortunes began.

“It was after we lost to the Lions in Durban that Eben (Etzebeth) had strong words. We had played well in the first half, but in the second, we faded away – and he said it was unacceptable.

“He said that being in such a big brand as the Sharks, you can’t allow the team to become a laughing stock. He said we all have to take accountability.”