DURBAN – It was not that long ago that Aphelele Fassi would have been disappointed at the All Blacks losing a Test match to the Springboks, but not anymore. Not since he has made the transition from schoolboy star to professional rugby player with the Sharks.
And also because his current upward curve in professional rugby could see him playing Super Rugby against his childhood heroes one day. It will be a while yet, but the way Fassi is playing on the wing and at fullback for the Sharks in the Currie Cup, plus his willingness to learn, he is on the right trajectory.
“I have thrown my lot in with the green and gold,” the 20-year-old said ahead of Saturday’s Currie Cup match against the Golden Lions at Kings Park.
“But I grew up supporting the Crusaders and the All Blacks because of the way they played rugby. They set the benchmark. I identified with the way they ran the ball.”
Fassi is a man of action, you see. We have seen that in the tries he has scored and in his swan dives over the line. The precious few who saw the Sharks XV play the Leopards in the Rugby Challenge would have marvelled at Fassi’s bicycle kick into touch after he had ran back towards his tryline to field a kick.
And his teammates in the Dale College cricket Ist XI saw him hit a century last year, batting at No 3. He was also a wicket-taker with his accurate medium-paced swing bowling. He could well have chosen cricket as his profession.
“Rugby was always going to win that one. Schoolboy rugby is the best thing ever. I played in the first team for three years and loved every minute,” he said. “I just love getting a rugby ball in my hands and having a go.”
Last year and the year before that, Fassi was one of the star players at the annual Kearsney Easter Festival to be awarded a bursary by the Sharks Academy. But there were a number of others from across South Africa.
“It was a big decision but the all-round offer from the Sharks suited me,” Fassi said. “I wanted a place where I would be comfortable with my surroundings and the people around me. Durban, with the outdoor lifestyle and the beach ticked the boxes.”
And Fassi has thrived on the east coast in his first year out of school.
“It has been a great season for me,” Fassi said. “But I keep reminding myself that I need to learn more with the likes of Sbu Nkosi and Lwazi Mvovo being here. As a player, I can learn a lot from them, the big thing is that it is all about learning.
Playing with these senior guys, they guide me, so it is really about me learning from them and applying what they say. Where I am now is because I have been willing to learn.”
Fassi has mostly played on the wing for the Sharks in the Currie Cup but his natural position is fullback, and he says that to make the grade in this specialist position, he has to grow his game considerably.
“As a player you try to improve every time you play,” Fassi said. “There is not too much change from the Rugby Challenge to the Currie Cup, the speed and physicality is the same, but there was a big step up from High School.
“It takes time, but I think I have reached the physicality and speed of professional rugby. I am working on tacking, high balls, kicking long and clearance kicks - those are the things that as a fullback you should work on.”