Odwa Ndungane will be closing out an illustrious career with the Cell C Sharks when he retires at the end of this year’s Currie Cup campaign, having served the team with dignity and honour.
Although not from Durban, he felt an affinity with the Cell C Sharks growing up in a region where there was a tie between the coastal teams from KZN and the Eastern Cape.
“I originally moved to Durban from the Bulls because there had been a relationship in the Super 12 days between The Sharks and the teams in the Eastern Cape where I had grown up,” he explains. “Having watched them as a boy, I was naturally a fan. I can still recall when I was at the Bulls during the Currie Cup and I received a call from Kevin Putt who was coaching The Sharks at that time, asking me if I wanted to come to Durban. It was a decision I didn’t have to think twice about making and I jumped at the opportunity.”
As a loyal Sharks man, he has never left the team to play elsewhere, either locally in South Africa or overseas, such is not only the regard with which he holds The Sharks, but also how the team and union view his wonderful, invaluable contribution over the years.
Looking back over his illustrious career, he admits to having enjoyed more highs than lows.
“Over the many years I’ve spent with the Cell C Sharks, there are plenty of highlights. I’ve been fortunate enough that the team enjoyed lots of success, we’ve won trophies and I’ve made good friends and special memories. Winning the Currie Cup in Cape Town, against all odds, was pretty special. There are too many to talk about, although that one probably sticks out.”
A natural progression, having a fine career spanning well over a decade, was being selected to play for South Africa, earning nine caps with the Springboks.
“I would have loved to get more, but nonetheless I’m still grateful for the opportunities I did get,” he says. “Many people have played professional rugby and never got the chance to play for their country, so it’s still a wonderful honour for me to have played for the Springboks.”
With over 100 Super Rugby and over 100 Currie Cup games for the Cell C Sharks, he has joined a select group of players to earn this amazing and very special milestone.
“For me, the biggest thing is sharing a similar record with my twin brother (Akona), it’s something we will both cherish and share memories for years to come. It’s a special achievement to share this record with only a handful of other players who were also capped this many times. I haven’t done it alone, I’ve had a lot of support from family, from team-mates and coaches and being blessed to play at the highest level for so many years.”
He admits that there is no secret to his longevity, but the fact that his enthusiasm has never waned has probably been a key ingredient.
“I don’t think there is any secret, but perhaps most importantly is the fact that I’ve never lost my love of rugby. What has made it so enjoyable is the people around me. I could so easily have lost my passion and interest, but the team-mates, coaches, management at the stadium, the fans, everyone has made it all so enjoyable. A lot of hard work has gone in to ensure I stayed on top of my game. I have been blessed to have played for so long and to not have any serious injuries.”
Trying to pin-point the best player he has ever played with at The Sharks doesn’t prove easy. “That’s a tough one,” he laughs. “If I go back a few years, someone like Brent Russell at his peak was superb on attack. More recently, Ruan Pienaar was one of the best scrumhalves we ever had. Bismarck du Plessis, Keegan Daniel, JP Pietersen, John Smit…. there are just too many to mention.”
As the curtain comes down on his career and having played in cup winning Sharks teams in the past (and obviously chasing one before retiring to enable him to go out on a high), he reflects on where the current Cell C Sharks team is headed in the next few years.
“If you look at the talent we have coming through, young guys like Curwin Bosch, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, the du Preez twins, there is definitely a lot of promise. Throw in the older heads like Keegan Daniel and Michael Claassens to keep the younger guys focussed and on track and the future looks bright.
“If we can keep all those guys at the union for as long as possible, with all that potential, I believe a lot of success will follow. If we can go all the way in the Currie Cup, we can take that momentum through into next year’s Super Rugby. I’m looking forward to the opportunity of sitting in the stands next year and watching some great rugby.
“There are exciting times ahead.”