PRETORIA – In the world of professional sport, it is nearly impossible to find those genuine, sincere and down-to-earth human beings.
Rugby is no different, and I’ve learnt over the years that it is the most privileged that whine the most and are never satisfied with what they have.
Their multi-million-rand salaries, the freebies that come with being at the top of the game and the thousands of adoring fans never seem to satisfy many of our professional rugby players.
But every now and then comes a player who bucks the trend and reminds us of the human side of the game, and why the true legends of rugby are not always the ones with all the trophies, mega sponsorships and a stadium full of young ladies screaming to catch a glimpse of a bit of that six-pack.
Former Springbok and Sharks wing Odwa Ndungane is one of those players, and as the last match of his illustrious career approaches, I am saddened at the thought that rugby will be much poorer for losing one of its loyal servants who epitomises everything about the sport before the millions came into the game.
Ndungane has called time on his career after over 17 years, having played for Border, the Bulls and the Sharks.
And at the ripe age of 36 years, it would have not come as a surprise to have seen him still doing his thing for at least another year.
But Ndungane bows out of the game at what he says is the “right time” to give opportunities to the next generation of stars to make their mark.
And at the sunset of his career, Ndungane is still placing others and the team ahead of his own personal ambitions.
For Ndungane, bringing the curtain down on a stellar career was never about the glory that will come with hoisting the Currie Cup or about being feted a hero at his beloved King’s Park, and being carried on the shoulders by his teammates.
All that Ndungane wanted to do was to leave the jersey in a better place.
And it will be a player like Sbu Nkosi to hold dear the values and hard work Ndungane put in that made the Sharks No 14 jersey one of the most respected and sought-after at the union and around the country.
Ndungane believes that he has done enough to help guide Nkosi to what could be another great Sharks and Springbok career, and has planted the seed that will inspire many black kids to believe that they too can become Springboks and legends of the game.
It would be easy to sing Ndungane’s praises through his 12 seasons of service to the Sharks, the over 100 Super Rugby and Currie Cup caps he has earned in Durban and being part of the Springbok side that beat the British and Irish Lions in 2009.
Along with his brother Akona, they have become the most successful set of brothers in the history of South African rugby, with the two Super Rugby titles Akona won with the Bulls and the Rugby World Cup winner’s medal Akona achieved in 2007 with the Springboks.
Odwa will certainly look back with pride on a career that is decorated with many individual and team prizes.
But one gets the feeling that it will be the influence that he has had on the likes of Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Lwazi Mvovo, Curwin Bosch, Mzamo Majola, Chiliboy Ralepelle and many other black rugby players that will make his career worthwhile and looking back with a smile on his face.
But what makes Odwa special has been his loyalty and humility, and that has not only earned him the name “Rev” (the reverend) amongst his family and close friends, but also epitomises his selflessness and what a true professional is in a sport that is filled with self-absorbed individuals who seek glory for themselves ahead of the team.