JOHANNESBURG – Young Lions back Wandisile Simelane makes no bones about the fact that the rise of Aphiwe Dyantyi last season has inspired him to work harder to achieve his goals.
Wing Dyantyi got his Super Rugby chance last year after an injury ruled out Springbok Courtnall Skosan and he grabbed it with both hands. Dyantyi scored one sensational try after the next and became a Bok star in Rassie Erasmus’s team.
But the Lions wing’s rise to the top last season has given 20-year-old Simelane plenty to think about as he ponders his own future. The former Jeppe star shone for the SA Under-20 team last year, then dazzled in the Currie Cup, and now wants more in Super Rugby.
“Aphiwe’s story is an inspiration, not only to me but for the whole of South Africa,” said Simelane.
“His rise has inspired little kids everywhere; he’s inspired me, too. What he was able to do in a single year (last year) is unbelievable.”
The young wing, who is just as comfortable at centre, said he was spending lots of time in teammate Dyantyi’s company to learn as much as he could.
“We play cards and board games in our off time, just chill together and share thoughts about life and rugby.
“My journey to be here has been amazing and I couldn’t ask for more. A year ago I was playing for the juniors, now I’m part of the Super Rugby squad. It’s unreal.”
He said it was also “unreal” that he was playing alongside his heroes from just a few years ago.
“When I was at school I looked up to guys like Elton (Jantjies) and (Lionel) Mapoe, and Courtnall (Skosan). They were my heroes; now I’m practising and playing next to them. I am so blessed.”
With the likes of Mapoe, Skosan, Dyantyi and Ruan Combrinck - all Bok players - ahead of him in the queue for the wing and outside centre positions, Simelane said he wasn’t looking too far ahead.
“I’m enjoying the moment right now; that is what is super exciting. I’m a sponge really, soaking up everything I can to make sure that when my chance does come along, I’ll be ready.”
He added it didn’t matter where he got a look-in, as long as he got a chance somewhere this season.
“I’m happy to play anywhere, as long as I get on the field,” he said with a broad smile. “I don’t have a favourite position anyway, but that’s not a concern right now.
“My first objective is to play, get some game time, and I’ll think about the position and where I fit in best later on.”
Simelane could feature in the friendly against the Sharks in Cape Town on Sunday.@jacq_west