It is rainy season in Johannesburg, many believe that the rain brings blessings with it, and we at Grit Sports can bare testament to that notion. We spoke to Luvuyiso MB Lusaseni former SA Schools, Sharks and Golden Lions lock forward and flanker. MB was born on 16 December 1988 grew up in East London, he is from a very talented family with one of his siblings Siyolisile Lusaseni being a former squash international player and the other sibling Asanda Lusaseni an extremely talented and well known musician. He started off his early schooling career in St Andrews Prep in Grahamstown before settling and matriculating at Selborne College in East London.
After having turned down approaches from the Shark Academy to move to Durban in his grade 11 year, the Academy came knocking again in his final school year and offered him a contract. The writing was on the wall for MB, which saw him move to the Sharks Rugby Union in pursuit of his rugby ambitions.
“We must let go of the life we planned so as to accept the one that is waiting for us” Joseph Campell
We asked MB to tell us about his experience at the Sharks Academy?
I think things at the Sharks academy gave me the best possible start to professional rugby. At Selborne College things were not as professional as I had experienced moving into the Sharks Academy. Things were a lot more intense there; I had to change my attitude towards my whole Rugby approach. In my first year at the Sharks, I obviously didn’t cope very well, because now I had a training schedule that I had to follow which included gym sessions and school work etc… of which I wasn’t really used to. As a matter of fact at u19 I actually ended up getting kicked out of the team because I just couldn’t cope with all the changes. Luckily the Sharks set up is structured in such a way that the contracted players are given ample opportunity to prove themselves and as such I was able to prove myself and make my way back into the team again. This came as a rude awakening because now one was competing with a pool of really talented players and one couldn’t take it for granted that success was inevitable, for example, if you think you can just walk into a team because you played SA schools the previous years, you have another thing coming.
Tell us about some of your mentors?
The only person I could looked up to in terms of sports and guidance was my sister who was not involved with rugby but was rather a professional squash player. Even with her guidance, most of her input was related to squash so I think it would of helped a lot to have someone within rugby as a mentor. However there were various people whom availed themselves in the certain areas and were a big influence in terms of how we thought and saw rugby as a profession.
Tell us about the circumstance surrounding you playing in the Varsity cup?
By the time I had signed a contract with Tuks, I had already signed a contract with the Leopards. So my plan was to go and play Varsity Cup for Tuks and get game time, then at the end of VC, I could go back to Leopards and play in the Premier Division Currie Cup. My experiences with Tuks at Varsity cup were very interesting. At that point in time, it was still building momentum (Varsity Cup). Took me by surprise at how Professional the set-up was at Tuks. I enjoyed my Varsity Cup experience and we actually did very well that season losing in the final to UCT. From there on I moved back to the Leopards.
Tell us about your time at the Lions?
Initially at the beginning of my time at Lions, I was at a point where I felt that I had enjoyed Currie Cup rugby and felt like it was time I stepped it up to the next level, because now Super Rugby was now in my sights. So that is why I decided that maybe I should give myself that opportunity, by going to a Super Rugby franchise. So in the beginning I was still basically playing between the Lions and the EP Kings but then everything swung in favour of the Lions. At the Lions, things were going smoothly and it as if I was going back home (Pretoria) because half the team was made of Tuks guys and the other half Sharks players. So it was a case of seeing familiar faces, structures and style of rugby, it made things very easy on just understanding the culture and dynamics of the team.
One of the highlights of my time with the Lions was playing under Johan Ackerman. His approach to the game, his impartial treatment of the players, made life that much easier at the Union.
In the first two weeks in terms of my training and all, I wasn’t totally up to scratch and I was actually dropped to Vodacom cup. None the less because I understood the fair process in which everyone was assessed and also understood the players I was up against, I worked twice as hard during the off season. After I made my way back into the team it was almost like open gates because now week after week you have to work yourself into being into that team and then being into that starting lineup. This system worked well because ultimately it fostered competition amongst us players, we ended up wanting the best for each other and trained knowing that the player who applies himself the best will be picked on the weekend. So as a team we focused on what we had to do and didn’t worry about what the other teams were doing.
None the less everything carried on well until I got a concussion whilst we were playing overseas. The injury meant the end of my Super Rugby for that season because there were just two weeks left on the season.
Then we went back to the Currie Cup and I applied the same mentality and everything was going well until in the seventh week I suffered a major ankle injury, which was a huge setback for me. This was an emotional period in my career because I was going to be out of rugby for at least six months, basically the rest of the season. Now I had to make sure I went through the right processes and procedures in my rehabilitation. Injuries are the one area in rugby I feel players should be mentored on since your mental strength plays a big role in your recovery. However what most players don’t realise is that whilst you were out for six months, other players were actually getting better in those six months. I think as a player your mental preparation and understanding of where you are currently (INJURY) and where you need to be, play a vital role in your recovery because now you no longer the player you were prior to the injury. Anyways I spent the following season playing catch up, week by week and never got play Super Rugby and only fully caught up at the Currie Cup.
You retired pretty early from rugby aged 28, please explain your decision?
The thing is that, I have always been involved in business from a very early age. Rugby is a full time job, in that you clock in at 07h00 in the morning and knock off at 16h00 or even 17h00 and we still clock in on weekends during game day. So I regularly found myself lacking in getting enough time to grow the business. That actually got to me, because I thought I would actually love to have some time so that I can work on my passion outside of rugby.
You went through a cross roads when your perception of rugby and reality thereof traversed, tell us about it?
Indeed, it affected my whole outlook on rugby itself, as in the beginning I had a glamourized outlook on what rugby was supposed to be. When I actually got into the crux of it, rugby was actually something completely different, it stopped feeling like I was going there for pure enjoyment and it felt like I was going there for a nine to five itself. To make matters worse my own personal life goals started actually drifting further and further away to a point where I was thinking okay, let me start planning for life after rugby. So that’s when I decided to take a step back from rugby itself and re-evaluate my role within rugby.
After you stepped back from rugby where did the road lead to?
I already understood, having been involved with the Lions, the role I needed to play, and that role was to be a mentor for the youngsters, because obviously now at the Lions we were going through a change and the youngsters needed to get pushed through. So I got my role and personally I would like to think I play it very well and that is by making sure that mentoring the younger players, we can bridge the gap between that whole fantasy life they have and the realities of the game. So already early on during the year I knew this is the role I wanted to play and it was just a matter of serving my contract. In as much as other rugby unions came through with offers, having recognized my lack of playing time, my mind had been made up.
Tell Us a bit about your involvement with BBR?
Well Big Brother in Rugby is an initiative, which a friend Thabo Mojela and I started which stems from a discussion we had whereby we wanted to take our experiences within rugby and actually put them to work. It actually end up becoming a mentorship program more than anything. So it is not that we go there and we teach you how to catch and pass a ball, we teach you the lifestyle you going to come up against and consciencize you to all this small things that could be potential challenges as you step into a rugby career. So one example is passing on my experiences from my injury both mental and physical challenges so that one can understand how they can overcome those challenges.
Tell us a bit about your Business Project Sanzala?
Laughs, I hope my mom doesn’t get to see or read this but growing up we have always had a love for beer and you know within the rugby circles, there’s always that love for beer. None the less we thought that we have been consuming all these beer brands for the longest of time and in actual fact felt that none of them represent us. That’s when we decided to sit and brain storm on how we can make this happen. For about six months, myself and my business partner Sabelo Nhlapo put in the hours to come up with our own Craft Beer. In that process we actually realised that in business you come across 99 problems which say this can’t be done and 1 positive that says “okay move forward this direction.” So we decided we going to focus on that 1 positive and actually realised we had given birth to a monster, and now we had to find a way to feed it. We want to control the pace at which this brand grows. The brand needs to represent us and hopefully something our fellow South Africans can relate to.
What is your message to the young up and coming black rugby players?
If you ever think about going into sport, go into the sport for the right reasons. I would say don’t go into the sport because someone else wants to build a dream around you playing the game, go into the game because you love the game and you want to play the game and that is what matters at the end of the day. You see with all these turbulence in and around the game, you gonna get tested, and especially your love for the game, so if you go into because you really do love the game, a lot of things will just seem as though they just speed bumps. However if you in the game because “your dad wants you to be a rugby player you will invariably fall off” so from the get go, go into the game because you love the game more than anything else.