Source: City Press
WHEN he took the phone call for this interview, Odwa Ndungane – who announced he will retire from rugby at the end of the Currie Cup season this week – was in the process of cleaning up the mess caused by the storm which ripped through Durban on Tuesday.
In a way it was fitting that the 36-year-old was, for the umpteenth time, up to his knees doing the jobs nobody wants to do because practically his whole career was about mopping up so that others could soak up the plaudits.
Few men have been prouder of putting in an honest day’s work in a career that has spanned 17 years; three provincial teams (Border, the Bulls and the Sharks) and the Springboks; over 300 first class games; and 97 tries and a conversion he can’t, for the life of him, remember nailing.
Asked to describe his career now that he at least has the Sharks’ Currie Cup semifinal on Saturday left in it – yesterday’s final round-robin game against Western Province was his tribute match – Ndungane didn’t exactly leap at the chance to big himself up.
“I’m a guy who’s a hard worker,” he began. “I’m not the most talented but I worked a lot on my skills and I always looked for work even though I was a wing. I had some talent but I had to work hard to keep up with the more talented guys.”
Yet for all that supposed talent deficiency, Ndungane’s was more than just an adequate career, it was a nod to consistency, dependability and steely determination. This is especially the case when you consider his beginnings as a Sharks player 12 years ago after joining them from the Bulls.
“When I arrived I never thought I’d stay so long,” he explained. “I couldn’t do anything right and my confidence took such a knock even the public started saying the Sharks had bought the wrong twin because (identical twin brother) Akona was thriving at the Bulls.
“It was so bad that I was almost loaned me out to Griquas, but when I spoke to my dad and my other brother about it they said I shouldn’t do it. Those times made me a better person and player, they taught me I couldn’t breeze through my career, I had to work hard.”
A case in point of Ndungane’s mind over matter approach was his favourite try, which he scored against the Crusaders during the round-robin stages of the Super 14 in 2007. Ndungane had knocked-on over the tryline early in the game and was given a chance to make amends in the last move of the game.
Long story short, he finished in the corner with Scott Hamilton in close attendance, a try that warranted two minutes of scrutiny by the TMO: “It has to be my best try because of what had happened before and the way I started off.
“Luckily Ruan (Pienaar) made the conversion from the touchline for us to win the game…”
By default, the Ndunganes’ staying power at the Sharks and the Bulls became an example for what black players could achieve: “Going to two of the biggest unions and staying there was a massive achievement for us. I’m very proud of that and it also shows every African child they can do it.
“The important thing is to get opportunities and backing by the coach because there are so many things that can put you off: injuries, loss of form and pressure from the media and the public.”
Having thought about retirement over the last few seasons and somehow carried on because the body felt surprisingly good thanks to never having had major injuries, Ndungane will miss a lot of things about the playing.
“I’ll miss the camaraderie, especially after being at the Sharks for so long, driving into the stadium for games or for gym, getting on to the field, the friendships made and the banter. But most of all I’ll miss the butterflies you get in your stomach on weekends when you’ve got a final or a big game.
“What I won’t miss is pre-season training, something I enjoyed at first but later in my career I didn’t. I’ll pop in during next year’s pre-season just to remind myself that I’ve made the right decision…”
Having made a home in Durban with his wife Kgomotso, daughter Amahle (five) and son Anathi (nine months), he will move on to running his two-year-old company Ndungane Constructions, where Sharks CEO and former Springbok captain Gary Teichmann is a stakeholder.
“Gary and I started it in 2015 and I used my days off to learn the ropes. It’s exciting, something totally different to what I know. I’ve also opened a sports agency with Akona.”
If his career is anything to go by, dependability should be the calling card at his new ventures.