Asenathi Ntlabakanye has the belief to prop up the Lions

Asenathi Ntlabakanye is stepping up in the Lions jersery. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Asenathi Ntlabakanye is stepping up in the Lions jersery. Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Published Feb 16, 2023


Johannesburg - Asenathi Ntlabakanye might be a product of Johannesburg’s school rugby system, but when it comes to the tradition of playing union, he is the first of his name within his family to create such a dynasty and attempt to build a lasting legacy.

The Emirates Lions tighthead-prop revealed yesterday, in an interview with Independent Media, that his family weren’t always into the sport, preferring football, with his mother, specifically, more aligned towards academic pursuits.

“My parents weren’t really into this rugby thing,” the St Stithians-alum admitted, “especially my mum …

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“She had to buy in later,” the man they simply call Asen continued with a loving chuckle, “especially after she saw how serious I was getting about it. She is enjoying it at the moment … At best I was an average student.”

The loss of the academic world has certainly been a boon for the Joburg-based franchise, who continue to churn out a healthy stock of props that can – more-often-than-not – stand up to much more illustrious packs and subdue Test-laden front-rows in the United Rugby Championship (URC) and European Professional Club Rugby.

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Ntlabakanye, who played as a loose-forward during his school days at Saints, is another prop off that conveyor belt – one that continues to build his reputation in the fashion of former teammate Carlu Sadie – the current crop of props within the team Sti Sithole and Ruan Dreyer; while under the tutelage of beloved former Lions player and scrum coach Julian Redelinghuys.

In recent weeks, Ntlabakanye has enjoyed consistent gametime and with more action on the field, his form has steadily improved. Despite the Lions suffering a torrid period during their last six matches regarding their results, the burly No 3 has stood out as arguably their best player.

The 23-year-old is certainly aware of this but remains humble in his personal appraisal.

“This has probably been my best patch of rugby in my career,” he said.

“I’ve got the backing of all the coaches and that has given me a lot of confidence, especially from the forward coaches. They are the ones that really put up their hands and said, ‘listen, let’s back this guy’.

“The guys around me as well – you need them to stand up and believe to get the best out of you and make you believe. Tighthead is a very important position within the team, and I am starting to believe that I can be that guy for the team.

“I am really enjoying my rugby at the moment. Obviously, it is not nice that we are not winning but I am sure that will come.”

The Joburgers will return to action on Saturday in a crucial URC encounter against the Sharks at Emirates Airline Park (kick-off 3pm) after having won just one match in six during the last two month. It is a statistic that Ntlabakanye and Co must overturn in their final games, if they are to have any hopes of reaching the knockout stages of the tournament.

Moreover, no team would dare to bluff themselves that such a punishing run would not have an impact on a squad’s confidence. On both counts, Ntlabakanye believes the Lions can change their fate.

“We are not going to hide from the facts,” Ntlabakanye said frankly.

“We set ourselves a goal that we would make the top-eight and now it’s not going to be easy. But we know the importance of the next six games (starting with the Sharks) ... We are ready to turn the corner and we are confident we can take the result this weekend.

“Every game is now almost like a play-off, and we are going to treat them as such. For us to get to the quarter-finals, we know what we need to do. I am pretty sure the boys are in the right frame of mind,” he concluded.