DURBAN - He was at high school last year and this year is reaching for the stars in the Currie Cup. It has been as quick as that for Aphelele Fassi, who has swapped his Dale College jumper for the black and white of the Sharks.
Sharks supporters can’t help but have taken keen notice of the 20-year-old, who announced his arrival with a brace of tries in the Sharks-Bordeaux exhibition match at Moses Mabhida Stadium last month. They were scores as memorable for their athleticism as they were for the youthful exuberance in Fassi’s celebratory dives over the line.
And Fassi has continued to impress in his onward progression into the Currie Cup where he has played both wing and his preferred position of fullback. He simply loves getting his hands on the ball.
“I like the camaraderie in rugby, the atmosphere at the games... and I love getting the ball and doing the best I can with it,” says Fassi. “The Currie Cup provides (a) great opportunity for youngsters to prove themselves. It is a very good initiation. It is all about the youth, and about them being able to express themselves.”
Fassi was born and bred in King William’s Town where he spent three years in the Dale College First XV. Last year he scored 15 tries in 23 games, with his form at the Kearsney Easter Festival earning him a bursary to the Sharks Academy.
In fact, he earned the same bursary the year before, too. Now he is ensconced with other students at Kings Park where suites have been converted into dorms so the students literally eat, sleep and live rugby. Fassi is happy with that.
“High school rugby was the best thing ever but now it is a new world and if I am to achieve the goals I have set myself, I have to work extremely hard every day and in every game,” he says.
“I need to be consistent, nothing comes easy... If it did every player would make the Super Rugby grade. Consistency can take you a long way to getting a shot. Game by game I have to lift my standards. I can’t play the same standard for long, I have to push myself every time I run on the pitch.”
We know Fassi thrives with ball in hand, but how does he feel about the rest of his game? “It is not all about attacking, you also have to put your body on the line in defence,” he says before adding with a smile, “and kicking is not meant for everyone, but I can kick, I enjoy doing it but I enjoy holding onto the ball even more. I love having a go.”
It follows that Fassi’s heroes growing up were mostly All Blacks. He admits that he has always been a Crusaders fan although he might have to abandon his allegiance to them if he one day plays Super Rugby.
“Beaudon Barrett, Dan Carter, those are the guys I dreamed of meeting. The All Blacks ... you have to enjoy the way they play. Then as a fullback I like the way Israel Folau of the Wallabies plays and, closer to home, I think Curwin Bosch is an exceptional player. He is only a year older than me and at school in the Eastern Cape, he was huge,” Fassi says.