Should he make his Vodacom Super Rugby debut off the bench against the Vodacom Bulls on Saturday, Fezokhule Mbatha’s appearance will mark a fairytale start to his senior career with the Cell C Sharks.
A key member of the Cell C Sharks Under 19 success story last year in which the hooker played an integral role in the teams unbeaten run en-route to the SA Rugby Under 19 Championship title, he will look to impress off the bench.
There have been several young players who have recently come through The Sharks system, with last year’s Under 19 captain Phepsi Buthelezi featuring in each of the Cell C Sharks Super Rugby clashes to date (and is once more named in the match 23).
Others include Aphelele Fassi, Khutha Mchunu and the man he replaces – Kerron van Vuuren – himself a locally schooled (Glenwood High) junior player, now making a name for himself at a senior level.
Mbatha who hails from Empangeni in Zululand was spotted playing in the KZNRU Talent Identification Tournament in 2011, which is supported by the Department of Sport and Recreation, and promptly offered a bursary at Pietermartizburg’s prestigious rugby school, Maritzburg College (which boasts Sharks/Springboks like Butch James and Joel Stransky amongst their old boys).
He excelled for his school and was selected to represent KZN at Craven Week and went on to play SA Schools before being named in the SA Under 20 training squad.
His selection for the senior team speaks of the success of The Sharks development structures as well as our commitment to nurturing homegrown talent and from the player’s point of view, testimony to his sheer hard work and determination to play at the highest level for his province.
His is a real success story for himself, the province and the Cell C Sharks who have watched with pride how this young man has conducted himself on the rugby pitch and has now reached the stage where he can be proud to wear the Black and White jersey of the Cell C Sharks.
With Mbatha, Buthelezi, Mchunu and van Vuuren coming through the provincial ranks and performing with distinction, it bodes well for the Cell C Sharks’ succession plan going forward.