PRETORIA – Bulls flank Thembelani Bholi may be a man of few words but when he does speak, he never minces his words and can back them up.
And that is what his Bulls teammates discovered during the offseason as they battled it out for places in the team and are now glad to allow Bholi to do his talking on the field in Super Rugby.
“I have to kick the door down, there is no one who is going to fight for me, I need to fight for myself,” Bholi said from Loftus Versfeld.
It has been on the field that Bholi has probably screamed the loudest of any Bulls player and his starting debut in last weekend’s win against the Hurricanes came as no surprise to those who have watched him quietly go about his job in the preseason.
“Each and every team from New Zealand is strong and hard to play against. But we pitched up on the day and we showed them what we can do,” said Bholi who grew up in a village called Mooiplaas on the outskirts of East London in the Eastern Cape.
And while there has been plenty of noise about the antics of young Lions wing Aphiwe Dyantyi since the beginning of the season, Bholi is relishing Saturday’s derby against the Lions who have not lost a Super Rugby match against a South African teams in the last two years.
As direct and physical as he is on the field, Bholi, carelessly but without malice, rightfully lacks the diplomacy too many players afford their adversaries when none should be in a battle for supremacy and ultimately victory.
The Bulls will need Bholi’s brazenness and a lack of fear in the face of danger if they are to gain some parity against the Lions onslaught.
To win the battle to get physical and set-piece dominance the Bulls will again look to their tight five and the likes of Bholi but they will also need to employ some of the dynamic innovation to their game that saw them outsmart and outlast the Hurricanes.
Bholi thinks they are a team ready to face any challenge thrown at them.
“We know that the Lions will come hard at us and want to prove a point but we are ready for everything they will throw at us and every challenge. We are taking things one step at a time. Every team that comes, we will accept the challenge and do what we need to do,” said Bholi.
Bholi’s journey to Super Rugby and the most successful South African franchise in the competition mirrors the road less travelled by most players in the country.
It is that journey that began playing Sunday league village rugby against his uncles and father that saw Bholi make his way to the Southern Kings then the Pumas before coming to Loftus.
As enjoyable as this moment is for Bholi, the man of few words but big hits and runs on the field also dreams of walking the green and gold paved road to becoming a Springbok but not before he adds his name to the many greats that have made Loftus their home.
“I’m really enjoying myself a lot. I was with the Pumas in Mpumalanga and it is closer. But it is better to be here than in Nelspruit. The Kings helped me a lot because that is where I started my career. That experience made me strong enough to face any challenge that I am going to face at the Bulls.”
“For now I want to play most of the Super Rugby games and then I will see how that goes. All I want to do now is to start in Super Rugby and be a better player and improve on what I already have,” Bholi said.