JOHANNESBURG – There are not too many Lions players who’ll have fond memories of facing the Jaguares, who have given the Joburgers plenty of headaches in the past, but one man who will have enjoyed facing the men from Buenos Aires is young star Aphiwe Dyantyi.
The 23-year-old announced himself on the local rugby scene in some style in late February when he helped his teammates beat the Jaguares 47-27 in round two of Super Rugby, scoring two sensational tries which followed just a week on from the opening weekend try he got against the Sharks.
In round one, Dyantyi beat the first Sharks defender, put ball to boot, collected it and scored a magnificent try, and seven days later he was at it again. The first against the Jaguares was a step to his inside off his left foot that bamboozled the defence, and his second was a solo breakout from his own half which saw him round several defenders at pace before pausing and again stepping inside to score under the posts.
Dyantyi had made his mark and was on his way in Super Rugby. The Springboks would be next.
It has been a thrilling debut Super Rugby season for the former Eastern Cape schoolboy who was once told he should give up the game because he was too small.
This weekend he will go into his first Super Rugby play-off series and, while he starred against the Jaguares in round two, he said this week that the men from Argentina would be a completely different kettle of fish now that it is the quarter-final stage of the competition.
“I think if we had to compare them to that first game we played against them (in round two), they’ve progressed since then,” said Dyantyi. “Even a few weeks later (in round six) in Argentina, they were improved.
“When you go into a play-off game, it’s no longer about form or how you’ve been playing in the season. It’s about who pitches up on the day and who wants it most.”
And he’d be right. The Jaguares have been one of the most improved sides in the competition this year, qualifying for their first quarter-final, and a few weeks ago went on a four-match unbeaten run in Australia and New Zealand.
Dyantyi said he was looking forward to Saturday’s challenge.
“It’s great that we’re into the play-offs and have a home quarter-final. It’s always nice playing in front of your own fans and I think we’re going into the game on a good platform, having won last weekend.
“It’s going to be a big test for us so we’re going to need a big collective effort this weekend to get to the next round. Hopefully we can compete well and go further in the competition.”
Dyantyi started off the bench against the Bulls last weekend having had to make way for the more experienced Courtnall Skosan, who returned to the side after spending much of the year on the sidelines with injury.
And with Ruan Combrinck now also back in form and the Lions having the likes of Madosh Tambwe and Sylvian Mahuza on their books, there’s plenty of competition for the starting wing places.
“Courtnall and I are teammates and we look to inspire each other, regardless of the fact that we’re also competing against each other. We always push each other hard and motivate each other, on and off the field," Dyantyi said.
It has indeed been a wonderful joyride for Dyantyi since breaking into the Lions team and he has certainly made the most of another’s ill-fortune.
“I couldn’t imagine a lot of things this time last year,” he said.
“Right now I’m just enjoying my rugby, being here at the Lions, being part of this family. You never really know when your chance will come, but when it does, you must take it,” he said about the opportunity he got in Skosan’s absence.
Lions fans, and his teammates too, will hope Dyantyi is as influential this weekend as he was on February 24. If he is, there’s every chance the young flier will be one step closer to the Lions finally winning a first Super Rugby title.