DURBAN – He is from the small Mpumalanga town of Barberton, but there is nothing daisy-like about explosive wing Sbu Nkosi, the exuberant new talent who has been called up to the Springbok squad.
With his very first touch of a ball in a competitive game of mini-rugby, at age 6, he scored a try and later at school was nicknamed “Lomu” because of his size and barnstorming runs down the touchline.
That nickname would not fit now seeing as he stopped growing height-wise at high school (he is currently 1.82m), but he is still a beefy lad at 97kg.
Naturally, Nkosi was a Bulls supporter growing up, but he says the men who inspired him were Sharks wings Odwa Ndungane and Lwazi Mvovo, who he would go on to play alongside much sooner than he expected.
Predictably he was a stand-out player for the Pumas teams at the various age-group festivals and it was at the Grant Khomo U-16 Week that he was spotted by Jeppe High’s talent scouts, and he finished his last two years of high school as a boarder at the school.
In those years, 2013 and 2014, he played Craven Week for the Golden Lions and in the “final” of the 2014 event, he scored a fine try, although his side lost to WP.
But the Sharks’ scouts had seen more than enough and the next year he was in Durban at the Sharks Academy, rubbing shoulders with his heroes from the Eastern Cape, Mvovo and Ndungane or “the elders” as he reverently calls them.
Two seasons of scoring tries for the Sharks U-19 team earned him a call-up to the SA Under-20 squad last year, and he made three appearances.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez promoted him into his Currie Cup squad later that year; in 2017, he was playing Super Rugby, and now the Boks have beckoned.
The climb up the rugby ladder may seem uncomplicated for the 21-year-old, but Du Preez says Nkosi has had no easy ride.
“He has an incredible work ethic, and when you combine that with abundant natural talent, you are going to be successful,” Du Preez says.
“His call-up is richly deserved because he has sweated for it. Few work harder in training than him. He is a guy with his feet firmly on the ground, and he is only going to get better.”
Interestingly, Nkosi has said one of the first tips given to him by Ndungane was: “Treat every training session as if it was a game, every game as if it was your last, and stay humble. Be grateful if you play well, but never let it go to your head.”
This advice has certainly rubbed off on the youngster, who in terms of quiet disposition is a clone of Mvovo and Ndungane, both excellent ambassadors for South African rugby.
The latter says he was thrilled when his ‘protégé’ was called up to the Boks.
“When I heard the news, I was very excited because I always knew he had it in him to go to the highest level,” said Ndungane.
“The thing I noticed about his play from the beginning is that he is very courageous. All the talent in the world is not going to get you to the top if you don’t have heart.”
Ndungane, a Sharks legend who is 36 and still going strong (he is starting against the Bulls today), said that Nkosi’s fearlessness gives him a special attribute.
“He can make things happen out of nothing because he is not afraid, and players like that are rare,” Ndungane said. “He has a very good feel for the game, and will have a crack if he sniffs an opportunity.”
Ndungane said that he is certain that Nkosi is going to have a successful Bok career.
“Apart from the talent that is obvious to see, and the courage, his head is in the right place. He is firmly grounded. Often I am surprised at some of the things he comes up with in conversation.
“He loves reading, and prefers a quiet life away from the game.”