JOHANNESBURG – Grant Griffith, the director of rugby at Dale College in the Eastern Cape, laughs when it is suggested he made a mistake by not picking Aphiwe Dyantyi for the first team in his matric year.
“It’s funny how I’m now hearing stories that I never selected him because he was too small at school,” says Griffith with a hearty chuckle. “He was certainly smaller than the guys around him but that’s because he was a year younger than all of them he was always a year young for his group. And, besides that, we had a great flyhalf who played first team for two years running. Aphiwe didn’t make first team in matric because there was a better player ahead of him in the queue, that’s all.”
Dyantyi might not have cracked it at schoolboy level - he actually ended up playing for the third team in his matric year in 2011 - but he’s now making a name for himself at the Lions, on the wing.
The 23-year-old has been Man-of-the-Match in both the Lions' Super Rugby games so far this season, grabbing a brace of tries in both outings against the Sharks and Jaguares.
“He’s got a massive future ahead of him,” says Griffith. “He’s got everything to take the big step up that’s required to succeed at the highest level, and that’s discipline, hard work and dedication.
“I’m thrilled for him. It just shows that even if you don’t crack it at school level, if you want something and you’re prepared to work for it, you can achieve your goal. Aphiwe is the perfect example of grabbing your chance when it comes.”
It helped that Dyantyi “opened his mind”, in his own words, to the idea of changing positions. He was, at school and even afterwards, intent on playing flyhalf only, and at a push fullback until a meeting with University of Johannesburg U-19 coach Mac Masina some years back convinced him to swap to the wing, and consider other positions.
“Mac was coaching the UJ Young Guns and I was just playing touch rugby for Wits at the time. He offered me a chance to play for UJ, but I told him I didn’t like wing. I’ve never liked wing because it’s not where you can make the decisions, like at flyhalf,” Dyantyi recently told GritSports TV in an interview.
“But I got together with Mac, we had some coffee, and at the end of the meeting I signed up for UJ. I played fullback, I played Sevens, I played Young Guns and then I decided to give wing a shot. I’ve learned to open up the mind to other options.”
The rest is history. Dyantyi starred for UJ in the Varsity Cup competition, at centre mainly, and debuted for the Lions in the Currie Cup last year. He is now starring on the wing in Super Rugby and after last weekend’s showing against the Jagaures his coach Swys de Bruin said he could become a legend of the game.
Big things lie ahead for the speedy winger with the big side-step and jet-fuelled pace, but so disappointed was he at missing out on first team action at school he gave up the game for some time.
“It was Dale’s 150th celebrations in my matric year and I wanted to play first team and I thought I would after going through the system in the A teams in junior rugby. It’s a big boys school and pride was at stake,” he told Grit Sports. “I assumed I’d move into the first team, but it never happened and I took it hard I was embarrassed. After school I quit rugby, and accepted it wasn’t going to happen.”
He moved to Joburg and started studying, having enrolled for a B Com Marketing degree (which he now has an honours in), “to make a fresh start”. He turned to soccer and social rugby, helping out his “koshuis” (residence) from time to time, before being convinced by former Lions centre Masina to change his thinking and give rugby a go again, even it if meant playing wing.
“My family always said I was destined to play Super Rugby and for the Springboks,” he told GritSports. “Now I am playing in Super Rugby and am fully focused on that, to make the most of the opportunity I have. Of course I want to play Test rugby but one shouldn’t look too far ahead otherwise you can miss out on the now. I know that if I do the little things right, the big picture will look after itself.”
This weekend’s trip to Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria for a date with the Bulls - now coached by former Lions boss John Mitchell - will be Dyantyi’s first big pressure-filled away game. Both teams are coming off morale-boosting wins last weekend.