Nick ‘Mthakathi’ Durandt died in a motorcycle accident on Friday May 21: Photo: Nhlanhla Phillips/Independent Media
JOHANNESBURG - It’s hard to believe that Nick Durandt is no longer with us. The hair, the headgear, the earrings, the tats, the sometimes outrageous comments were a part of our lives for so long, weren’t they?

I realised this week that, in fact, I never actually met him in person and yet it felt like he was an old acquaintance

There was a stage a few years ago when he regularly called the early morning show on 702 as the first caller of the day. He would be in his car driving after his boxing stable as the fighters completed their road work. Nick would give information about the weather or comments on some topic that was in the news. What a character. What a tragedy.

But it is nice to record a real positive in boxing to balance the above sad news.

Did you watch Thulani Mbenge beat doughty welterweight champion Shaun Ness last week?

At times he looked manic and vulnerable to a punch but boy, was he impressive. His fitness, power and general star quality stood out in a way that is rare.

Ten KOs out of ten is a great start but if I were Sean Smith, I’d get Brian Mitchell in to consult on defence. Nobody hit Brian very often, did they? The new champ could go all the way if he can minimise his vulnerability to get hit.

It’s nice to see our boxing on the way back. Follow that name.

It’s also nice to talk about athletics in the positive.

For years, many have despaired about why, despite the advantages of altitude, facilities and tradition here, we have failed to really realise our athletic potential. As usual, a lack of clarity and different agendas between officials and politicians has deflected effort.

Now it seems that the work of elite athletes - all six Olympic finalists from Rio - led to that packed house in Potch and the best SA Championships in years. Let’s hope it leads to more co-operation and more monster meetings like we used to see at Pilditch, Germiston and Stellenbosch.

Nowadays meetings are so slick they are spectator friendly and really spectacular. Who knows, we could become the next Jamaica of the athletics world. Why not? Maybe TV might even cover them. What was that all about?

The coverage of the IPL is truly extraordinary. So many games and yet so many full or nearly full stadiums.

It’s demeaning to conduct interviews with players on the field as, despite the novelty, it sabotages the integrity of the contest. Can you imagine interviews with soccer, rugby or boxing protagonists during an encounter? Exactly.

Maybe this is the future of cricket. Us Test fans will never concede the superiority of our version but I wonder what our kids and grandkids will say about it. It’s nice to see South Africans figuring and one hopes they are securing their futures in a way that is sensible, sober and selective. How will our international T20 version compare?

On the topic of life security, I bumped into Lions and Springbok prop Julian Redelinghuys in the week. Remember, he suffered a serious neck injury and had to undergo surgery. We met socially and had a great chat about rugby, family and life.

Rarely has a young sportsman so impressed. He is a man of the West Rand and he loves it. He turned down opportunities to go overseas and rather completed a B Com in his spare time. He is proud of his rugby achievements but also refreshingly realistic about their place in the great scheme of his life. He knows that , at the early age of 27 his playing days might be over, but he is sanguine rather than suicidal. He still has a role to play with the Lions and I suspect he will become a role model for how professionals in sport can use their achievements as a springboard to happiness even after retirement. What an impressive and nice guy. He gives props a bad name!

Finally, the best news of the week, if not the year.

Many were devastated last year to hear of the plight of Junaid Hartley, the former Bafana star.

From being our potential Lionel Messi, he fell among thieves and they went by the name of narcotics. Many tried to help him, including his family, but denialism and anger prevented real progress. It was a sad affair.

This week, Junaid and his family rocked up at my house and the mood was so different. He has finally faced his demons, is blaming nobody but himself for his fall, and is looking forward. He appears fit and well and the light is back in his eyes. Look out for an SABC documentary about his story that might well be ground-breaking.

John Robbie is a former British Lions, Ireland and Transvaal rugby scrumhalf

Saturday Star

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