Cell C Sharks loose forward Phepsi Buthelezi might be just 20 years old, but he has a mature head on his shoulders as he looks to contribute positively to the Cell C Sharks cause.
He led his Under 19s to SA Rugby Under 19 Championship glory last year in an unprecedented season in which the team never lost a single match the entire campaign.
He’s now featuring in the Currie Cup competition and while there have been some ups and downs, he admits that it is an opportunity for personal development and growth.
“We started the game against the Pumas very well, our intensity was really up there in the first half especially, however, in the second half when we came out and gave them that easy try, I think that got them back into the game. We just need to be better in the second half in terms of keeping the foot on the pedal,” he reflects.
Was it a combination of the Pumas’ confidence lifting after scoring either side of half-time and the Cell C Sharks’ confidence taking a knock?
“Definitely, when they got that try early in the second half, they took a lot of confidence and there was panic from our side when we should really have just calmed down and try to get back into the game,” Buthelezi explains. “This is something we’ve worked on at training to fix ahead of our game against Free State.
“We have had some honest conversations and had a hard look at ourselves, looking at where we slipped up. The biggest thing for us going into these last three games is growing and making sure we get some sort of momentum so that we hopefully end up in the semi-finals.”
This weekend offers the opportunity to fix things, although he warns that it won’t be easy.
“This is a very good Cheetahs side that has enjoyed a good run in the Currie Cup, although losing to the Lions would have been a big blow for them. They have a very physical pack and a good set-piece so from our side, we need to counter that by making sure we defend really well and show plenty of physicality ourselves.”
As the last pool game at JONSSON KINGS PARK, this match between the Cell C Sharks and Toyota Free State is about delivering an impeccable performance, for the fans.
“After some of the poor performances that we’ve had, we think that the people of Durban and Sharks supporters really deserve a big performance so we’ll be coming out on Saturday giving it our best shot.”
The former DHS star (they were a top 20 side in South Africa when he featured for the school’s first XV) made his Super Rugby and Currie Cup debuts this year in what has been a meteoric rise for the Cell C Sharks Under 19 and SA Under 20 captain.
“It’s been an unbelievable year for me,” he admits. “From making my debut in the win against the Sunwolves at the beginning of the season, to captaining the Baby Boks and now playing Currie Cup rugby, it’s been absolutely wonderful and I’ve really grateful for every opportunity I’ve had and try to use each one to the best of my ability. For me, it’s learning as much from the senior players like Tera Mtembu and Jacques Vermeulen and previously Jean-Luc and Dan du Preez and growing from game to game.”
His secret to success is not that secretive, but it relies on a great attitude and work ethic.
“The biggest thing for me is that I work very hard on my extras. After each match, I have a look at my own game and assess the things I may have done wrong or could have done better. I try to work on these to keep on improving and growing from game to game.”