S’bu Nkosi: Unleashed and twinkle-toed

The winger is back with a vengeance, and he’s looking to make up for lost time and give his team the perfect end to a difficult year.

Ahead of every match, Sharks and Springbok winger S’bu Nkosi relaxes by listening to the slick flow of Durban rapper Nasty C, paying particular attention to his latest album Strings and Bling.

“Who let the dog off the leash/ Who let the wolf see the sheep?
Let ’em eat right now/ Who wasn’t lame in his teens?”
, Nasty C spits in his marquee offering Jungle.

Nkosi himself has played like an unleashed dog this year, rabidly tearing holes in defences across the southern hemisphere and graduating to Springbok colours. If that is the impact that Nasty C has had, long may the lyrics flow.

“I used to listen to it on my earphones, but I share it with the rest of the team now,” Nkosi smiles, looking ahead to a massive Currie Cup semifinal against the Lions at Kings Park on Saturday.

The Sharks’ music dock has an open-door policy, with various genres encouraged and shared, as the men in black and white limber up before each game. “We listen to all sorts, and I quite enjoy that. There are a few, different tunes that come out, but it is about embracing each other. Some guys might not usually listen to Nasty C, but they don’t object when I put it on,” Nkosi the diplomat expands.

A Durban favourite

Beyond the music, much has happened for the 22-year-old product of Barberton. He has become a crowd favourite at Kings Park, and that domestic form saw him quickly win his Bok blazer. There was no slowing down, either, after he made an immediate impression against England.

Nkosi has now slotted himself into the long and proud tradition of wingers who have become crowd favourites down Banana Boys’ way. From Tony Watson, Cabous van der Westhuizen and James Small to Odwa Ndungane and right through to Nkosi himself, the Shark Tank has always loved the sight of their wide men sliding into the corners.

“A lot has happened this year, but I feel like I can still improve,” Nkosi nods, not entirely content with his success this year. Along with the highs of scoring international tries, he has had to cope with a near three-month period on the sidelines thanks to an ankle injury that forced him to miss the Rugby Championship. While some may have cursed their luck, Nkosi took the “glass half-full” approach from the injury period.

“It was actually a pleasure to watch the boys take on and beat the best team in the world,” he says of a winter that saw the Boks beat New Zealand away from home.

“Yeah, I would have loved to be playing, but injuries are part of the game. As a rugby fan, I loved watching those games, though. To see that quality, it was gripping. I was proud to see the team play like that,” he repeats.

Navigating rough seas

Nkosi’s approach to life and rugby may have a lot to do with his meteoric rise to prominence. As a rule, he doesn’t sweat the small stuff, rather, he embraces the obstacles in his path. “There is a saying that I have always taken inspiration from: smooth seas don’t make a skilled sailor.” It’s a fitting philosophy for a player in Durban, where things haven’t been totally smooth over the past few years.

“You have to embrace the challenges. They are part of life, and it is then how you overcome them. When I was injured, I couldn’t improve myself physically because of the nature of my injury. So I worked on my mental strength,” he says.

That mental fortitude was brought to the fore when he made a try-scoring return against Griquas in the final round of the Currie Cup pool fixtures. Now, as he and the Sharks look to a semifinal against the dangerous Lions, there is a spring in his step. “As a winger, that is my happy place, crossing the line. That is what I love doing, so to do that in my first game back made me feel like dancing,” he chuckles.

At the Sharks, Nkosi is surrounded by players who love to attack space and terrorise defences with their incisive running. The likes of Curwin Bosch and Robert du Preez are astute readers of the game, but Nkosi is also aware of the unsung heroes in the backline. “Even more direct guys, like Andre Esterhuizen, for example, play a massive role in the team. They force defences to stay on them for longer, which gives us the space out wide,” he says.

An improved Sharks

Despite some struggles during their Super Rugby campaign, lately there has been a more expansive look to the Sharks, though Nkosi notes that the boot has been employed regularly by the 2018 vintage. Mind you, those kicks have been intelligent and probing, and have brought the dangers that lurk out wide into the thick of the action.

“We probably kick even more than ever, but our kicks are into space now, which brings the runners into the game,” he says of their playing style. As for the Bok-laden Lions, many with a point to prove, Nkosi holds no fear, but rather excitement at what they will bring to the coast. “It is a good Lions team. A very good Lions team, actually, and they have a lot of quality. I look forward to the game, but my focus is fully on winning with the Sharks. That is our priority at this stage of the season,” he emphasises.

The men from the East Coast are two games away from closing a tricky 2018 with some real momentum, and Nkosi, for one, is keen to end on the highest note. The gap that injury blew into the middle of his breakthrough season has left him with plenty of gas in the tank, and he is itching for Saturday to come.

“If we can win the Currie Cup, then it has been a great year. We have had challenges this year, but we have a chance to nullify some of those hardships with two good results in the next two weeks. That is all we are worried about,” says Nkosi.

And, seeing as that is the flow that brings out the best from their twinkle-toed winger, you can be sure that Nasty C will be on full blast in the Sharks’ dressing room around 2pm on Saturday. By 5pm, the Lions might indeed be left pondering “Who let the dog off the leash?”

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