Lizo Gqoboka. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG - The Springbok fairytale has always been made out to be one of a rugby prodigy that hails from the many century old rugby schools around the country and from a family rich in sporting history.

That has been the story over the decades from the dark and immoral days of segregation to the modern day professional era where your family name, school, and to a certain extent privilege, remain the stepping stone to wearing the Green and Gold.

But once in a while comes a player who reminds us that the true Springbok story is not one green and gold brick road paved from birth. Instead it is the coming to life of a dream that many in rural South Africa never thought possible.

One such Springbok fairytale is the rise of prop Lizo Gqoboka from being a complete stranger to the game six years ago to now standing on the verge of being the first Springbok to come from the rural town of Mount Frere in the former Transkei.

In fact, rugby was never part of Gqoboka’s life plans after completing his matric at Ntabankulu High School and embarking on a life changing journey to Durban to study.

He stumbled upon rugby when a friend, Zekhethelo Shange, asked him to come along to training at Collegians in Durban.

In a matter of six years, Gqoboka started playing club rugby, moved to Port Elizabeth to be part of the Eastern Province Kings, signed with the Bulls and now stands on the pinnacle of any rugby player’s dreams.

“I’m just very excited and it is a huge honour for me to be part of this group and to represent my country,” Gqoboka said.

“I just look back and see a beautiful picture and I see the hand of God because I realise how tough it is to make it even if you start at a young age. For me to be able to be playing at this level after just six years is really a blessing. I started liking rugby because I was playing for fun and at that stage was just focused on my studies. The more I played the more the love grew and the belief. It was not an easy journey, I had to make big decisions along the way but it is all worth it now.”

The 27-year-old found rugby by chance but he was born to play the game with his 115 kilogram and 1.83 metre frame which is almost the ideal size for an international prop.

While many hours with former Springboks Robbie Kempson and Gary Botha have helped sharpen Gqoboka’s technical ability at loosehead prop, it is his raw talent as a rugby player that caught the eye of former Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer three years ago when he was called up to a national team camp, and the very reason why he could depose his rugby hero, Tendai Mtawarira, in the Springbok team to play against France.

Gqoboka’s scrumming ability has improved immensely since joining the Bulls at the end of 2015, and while he has had to play musical chairs with Pierre Schoeman in Super Rugby and in the Currie Cup sides, he continued to stand head and shoulders above his teammates.

It has been Gqoboka’s humility and patience that have made him appreciate and make good of the opportunities given to him, and while he has the utmost respect for Mtawarira, he won’t hold back when the opportunity to play ahead of the Sharks prop comes along.

“In life we have different journeys and I think Tendai is a legend of the game. He has the most caps as a loosehead prop in that jersey and one needs to respect that. I respect him as a player and still look up to him but when my time comes then my time comes,” Gqoboka said.

The new faces in the Springbok squad and their stories of hope might just be exactly what the Springbok team needs to regain their confidence after a disastrous season last year.

Gqoboka is optimistic that the Springboks will rise again and become a force in world rugby in the same way his life journey has been one of rising from the ashes and believing that his once mighty Bulls team will again become Super Rugby champions and be the spine of the national team.

“We’ve had a tough season at the Bulls but I believe that all seasons are necessary for the building of our character. I’m looking at the bigger picture and we have a young group and we are learning every week. We may be losing in results but we are gaining a lot of experience and learning at this level. In a year or two I believe the players will go on to win Super Rugby and there will be a lot of Springboks coming out of that group as well.”

As Gqoboka prepares to become a Springbok, it will be a moment that changes his life and that of his family.

But it will also mark the moment that the true Springbok story changes from the well-manicured fields of colonial built schools and Springbok blood coursing through the veins of those born to be Springboks, to the rural areas where the real Springboks don’t speak a word of English or Afrikaans and will only stumble on the game by chance.


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The Star

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