WATCH: Bulls hat-trick hero Sibongile Novuka hoping to step his way into Test rugby like Quade Cooper

Sibongile Novuka of Bulls during the 2023 Currie Cup match between Sharks and Bulls at Kings Park in Durban

Blue Bulls wing Sibongile Novuka’s hero growing up was former Wallaby flyhalf Quade Cooper. Picture: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Published Apr 26, 2023


Cape Town – Looking at his size and style of play, you would never have thought that Blue Bulls wing Sibongile Novuka’s hero growing up was former Wallaby flyhalf Quade Cooper.

Novuka is a strapping 1.92m, 97kg specimen who has powered down the flanks for the Pretoria side this season, but it’s the man with the bag of tricks in playmaker Cooper whom he admired the most.

“I used to watch Julian Savea, and Israel Folau as well. But my idol was Quade Cooper, because he was a side-stepper – and I can side-step as well. I wanted to actually play the same brand of rugby as him,” the speedster said this week ahead of Saturday’s Currie Cup clash against Western Province at Cape Town Stadium (6.30pm kickoff).

Novuka – who featured for the University of Fort Hare and then UKZN in the Varsity Shield, where he was also a goal-kicker, before moving to Pretoria in 2021 – first caught the eye for the Bulls in the Champions Cup game against Lyon at Loftus Versfeld in December, where he scored an early try in a remarkable 42-36 victory by a young home side.

He hasn’t had many opportunities in the URC, but a few weeks ago, he grabbed a hat-trick in the 24-20 Currie Cup win over the Sharks in Durban – their first triumph at Kings Park since 2015.

Novuka’s build and playing style out wide earned him the nickname ‘Izzy’ – after the Australian star Folau – and he hopes to get a shot in the Bulls No 15 jersey as well.

“My nickname is Izzy. I was playing in the trials for Craven Week in Grade 11, and I was playing very well and I was tall. So Coach Lumumba Currie (who is now a Junior Springbok assistant coach) was coaching me back then and he was like ‘You’re playing like you’re Israel Folau, so I am going to give you the nickname Izzy’. So since then, I’ve been ‘Izzy’,” Novuka said.

“When I came here, I was playing fullback – my primary position is fullback. But since there are a lot of fullbacks here, I thought that I must play wing as well, so that I can play both positions.

“I felt the pressure when I played my first game in the Champions Cup against Lyon, but I was like ‘This is my opportunity to showcase my talent’, so I didn’t have any pressure. We are trying to play good rugby because we are new in European rugby. I didn’t feel any pressure – I was just playing my game.

“It (hat-trick) was very special, especially against the Sharks, as I used to play for UKZN, which was under the Sharks.”

Novuka is developing quickly while working with Springbok stars such as Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie, and is hopeful of playing Test rugby soon.

But before that, he needs to become a permanent fixture in the Bulls URC side, and said that he has been encouraged by the freedom that coach Jake White grants him on the pitch.

“Coach Jake said to me that I should do what I can do when I’m on the field, so that I won’t feel any pressure. So I’m trying by all means, when I get the ball, to do something… not special, but something that’s good for the team and me as well,” said Novuka, who attended Nzululwazi Senior Secondary School in Alice in the Eastern Cape.

“There is not a lot of pressure, but with ball-in-hand, I know I have to score as a winger, so that the team can go far.

“It’s very good to have Springboks around you, because you are learning a lot from them. They are always trying to share the information that they get from the Springboks with us, so that we can know what to work on – so that maybe one day, we can be Springboks as well.

“It’s really exciting, because with players like Kurt-Lee, Canan, Sbu Nkosi, Lionel Mapoe, it’s very nice to know that you are working with Springboks and learning a lot from them.

“From what I heard (to become a Springbok), I have to be very good with high balls, very good in defence, and the understanding of the game.

“If I can sharpen up on those things, it will be very easy for me to maybe get picked for the Springboks. By the end of this year, I want to be one of the players on the list for the Springboks.”

The Bulls are on a three-match winning run across the URC and Currie Cup, having thrashed Griquas, Zebre and Leinster by big margins recently, but they won’t underestimate a WP side that beat them at Loftus Versfeld in the first round.

“They are a very good side and are playing very well. I saw last week they played against the Pumas, and were playing very well,” Novuka said.

“But we are hoping to bring the heat on Saturday, and we are hoping to win that game, building up to next week’s URC quarter-final (between the Stormers and Bulls at Cape Town Stadium).

“It is not really a curtain-raiser for next week, but we are trying to play good rugby, so that the URC side are ready for the quarter-final.”


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