‘Fresh’ Aphelele Fassi aims to keep using his Sharks tricks

Aphelele Fassi has paid greater attention to his recovery and nutrition after a series of injuries, and it has paid off for the Sharks. Photo: BackpagePix

Aphelele Fassi has paid greater attention to his recovery and nutrition after a series of injuries, and it has paid off for the Sharks. Photo: BackpagePix

Published Apr 4, 2024


Aphelele Fassi says he turned disappointment at being excluded from the Springbok World Cup squad into motivation to get himself in peak condition for the Sharks.

The fullback was in the broader plans of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber, but fell by the wayside after an indifferent performance on defence in the 2022 Test match against Wales in Bloemfontein.

That display was followed by a succession of injuries.

The 26-year-old had an excellent game against Edinburgh at the weekend, and his message was clear: the “Weekend Special” is back and means business.

“It was tough to miss out on World Cup selection, but I had to face the reality that I hadn’t played a full season, and had had the same problem for two or three years,” he said ahead of Sunday’s Challenge Cup play-off against Zebre at Kings Park (4pm kick-off).

“I did not go three or four games without injury, which leads to a lack of consistency that is bound to impact your chances of selection.

“I was bummed when I was left out, but it took me two hours to figure out that I couldn’t expect more. The first injury happened playing for SA A in Ireland, where I tore my ATL (anterior talofibular ligament in the ankle) – and that kept me out for 10 weeks.

“Then I played three games, and went to Cape Town and broke my tibia bone.

“I was out for another six weeks, so that was 16 weeks in total. I came back and played three games and then the season ended.

“After that, I decided to focus a lot as an individual on my recovery, both after training sessions and matches, and concentrating on the right nutrition. I am being careful and I am feeling strong and fresh as a result.”

The non-Springbok players had the rare luxury of a proper pre-season after three years of non-stop rugby after Covid-19, and Fassi worked on his deficiencies with Sharks assistant coaches Joey Mongalo (defence) and Dave Williams (attack).

“Setting my goals regarding my strengths and weaknesses was a huge help,” he said. “It was a perfect opportunity to work through those things that needed work.

“My goal was to bring in different elements to my game to make me a more all-round player. I benefited a lot from the work put in and the influence of those two coaches leading into the season. It has helped me become stronger at my running and kicking game.”

The improvements in Fassi’s game were clear in the Edinburgh encounter, where he delivered a near-perfect performance that included a memorable solo try and a brilliant 50:22 kick.

But one swallow doesn’t make a summer, and Fassi knows he needs to deliver consistently if he is to get a recall from Erasmus.

“Honestly, Bok selection isn’t in my head. I haven’t played consistently for two years, so I need to build some momentum,” he said.

“My main focus is on the Sharks and the badge, and putting the jersey in a different place. The most important thing is my health, and keeping fit.

“In the past, there has been no consistency because of little or no game time, but this year I have played every game, and that is the difference.

“In Saturday’s performance, I pulled out a few tricks and it helped put the team on the front foot every time.”

Fassi added that the victories over Edinburgh and Ulster have given the team a big boost ahead of the Zebre last-16 play-off clash.

“The squad is very confident. We know we are going back into a different competition and that the stakes are high,” he said.

“This is a knockout game and we are playing against an Italian team that plays with passion.

“They will come at us with a lot of physicality. We must put the forwards into the right places and then knock off the scoring opportunities.”