While the Sharks and Western Province helped themselves to some of Selborne College’s 2018/2019 golden generation talents, the likes of Jacques Goosen, Jarrod Taylor, Mnombo Zwelendaba and Mntungwa Mapantsela to name but a few, many were left scratching their heads and pulling out their magnifying glasses trying to spot Sibusiso Javu, and which union had managed to snap him up.
Such keen interest on his whereabouts would not have come as a surprise, however, as his prodigious talents became apparent after a stellar season that saw him become a mainstay as well as an exciting figure for both Selborne College and Border at the 2019 Craven Week at just 17. When he carried through his school form at national level, it was no surprise when he made the SA Schools A side. His SA Schools A selection was supposed to all but seal the nimble footed full back’s, place at practically any of the country’s top union’s academies. But in the midst of all the “Where is Javu” questions, the speedster had found a way, to go under the radar and accept a study scholarship at NWU-Pukke instead, a decision that would’ve caught many with their pants down, but he explains. “The thinking behind that was to go the study route, get a degree and secure that before gambling with a rugby career” he said.
But Javu’s decision had done little to deter those in the Sharks camp, with union sources exclusively telling Grit Sports about their planned pursuit for his services as far back as early 2020, so it came as no surprise when they finally got their man, as Javu arrived in Durban in November to seal the deal. He then opens up on exactly what it means to him to be a part of the union. “It’s been such an honour, it’s really one of the biggest highlights of my rugby career, I really enjoy it this side” he enthused as he let us in on his influences for joining. “I can say their style of play is similar to that of Border rugby, we like running rugby with flair and keeping the ball and moving and not being overly technical. But yeah I’m really enjoying it at the Sharks, it’s quite amazing and one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had as a youngster coming up” he continued.
The East London resident admits that he had an added incentive for moving to the Sharks, with the significance of this move deeply rooted to his childhood. “I did support the Sharks growing up, it was thee team, when I was still in primary school, already I was supporting the Sharks, so yeah the black and white have always been one of my favourite teams” he said. “Also having been at Selborne Primary and College, still carrying through with that black and white jersey. But yeah, as a youngster growing up, I always wanted to become a Sharks player”.
Javu, keeps a level head on his young shoulders, one he displays by how he continues to balance out his studies with his new demands of being a Sharks Academy prospect. He explains what eventually made him change his mind about focusing solely on his studies, and how it’s come with its own set of challenges. “I had to first see how I was going to balance it out with the rugby at varsity level and studying at the same time, which was pretty good, until I changed from playing Varsity Young Guns, to coming into a professional set up. Normally at varsity you wouldn’t have that much time to study at all, but I feel like here at the Sharks, there is. It was a bit of a juggle, but I think I’ve found my feet and I can balance it out properly now”.
Javu admits that, choosing the university route was a challenging experience for him on the field as well, as he no longer had a team filled with players who have the potential to become professionals, nor those that would be considered amongst the top in the division. “Yeah, it was quite weird coming from a school that doesn’t spend so much time under their goal posts (laughs) and then having to play for a varsity where I’d spend most of the time under the poles (laughs). But I think the most memorable thing about playing for the Pukke Young Guns, was the vibe”. He said, while pointing out the aspects of the experience he valued the most “We had this team vibe that was more or less like we had at Selborne College, we had the brotherhood we speak about, there wasn’t a thing of, the players don’t know each other, they didn’t care about backgrounds, it was just a nice vibe, which was the highlight for me”.
He goes on to express his gratitude with regards to his short stint in Potchefstroom, lamenting that, even though it wasn’t necessarily SA Schools A or Selborne level, it was still a thoroughly enjoyable journey. Having said, that, there is certainly one aspect of it he won’t miss, and is confident it will change in his new environment. “But now coming to a professional set up, there is a difference, but (chuckles) I don’t think I’ll spend that much time under my own poles, especially with the team that we have now, with this u20 team put together by the Sharks. It really is different but the most important thing is if we as a team just get along and have a nice vibe”.
Although he ended up at Pukke last year, that particular path may have been altered by ulterior forces had he been a ‘shaky warrior’, as he reveals a number of interested parties were trying to convince him, to choose otherwise. “There was obviously interest from other unions (straight after high school). Like the Lions and the Cheetahs, who were trying to convince me to go there for pre-season training and just see how I’d fit in. But I’m a man with a plan, I don’t like hesitating a lot and being put under pressure, I like to know my plan and execute it accordingly. So I didn’t have any interest in those unions at the time, I just wanted to go study and fortunately for me, the Pukke offered me more or less the same thing as those unions, so I had to make that decision”.
As fate would have it, however, the young Shark would eventually sense and taste the blood in the warm Indian Ocean, following its trail to a place where it rightfully belongs, the Shark Tank. And is often the case when you arrive at home, you’re met with familiar faces. This situation proved to be no different for Javu, who arrived into the warm welcoming arms of former school teammates and coach. “Obviously it’s good to play where you’ve played with some of the players in that team and the vibe is just amazing since you guys know each other’s style, so it’s good that I have reunited with them”. However, he admits that neither were that big an influence in this move, as it was just about him following his destiny. “But it didn’t play a big role in me moving to the Sharks you know? It was the best decision I could’ve possibly made at that time, make the decision to come and enjoy it while it lasts. I’m just here to play my part and showcase my talent and do what I’m best at”.
Had Javu arrived just a year earlier, he could’ve found himself under the tutelage of his former school, provincial and SA Schools A coach Phiwe Nomlomo. However, Nomlomo is now part of the senior set up. Javu admits he would love the opportunity to be coached by Nomlomo again, but not just him. “I’m obviously looking forward to being coached by ‘Coach P’ again, because I’m familiar with him from back at school, but most importantly, I’m looking forward to learning from most of the coaches. I’d really like to learn more from all of the coaches, I take this as a learning experience more than anything, to further my rugby and get into that professional set up”.
Javu started school early, and has always been a grade above his age group. That has allowed him to play Grant Khomo twice, but also would’ve robbed him of an opportunity to play first team and Craven Week twice, and potentially graduate to the SA Schools A side. In fact, he was so good at his first Grant Khomo week, that he made the SA EPD u17 camp in 2017 at just the age of 15, playing in what is now his secondary position, flyhalf. He would then return in 2018 as a full back, and wouldn’t look back. So while there is an argument for that to be either a gift or a curse, the 19 year-old admits that, despite its initial challenge, he has always embraced it as a gift.
“I think it just gave me the head start I guess. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, but as the years went by I progressed and learnt that no, actually they’re also human and age isn’t really a factor in this sport, it all goes with skill, experience and hard work”. He claims that, despite the external factor, his strong mentally ensured that all the internal process that could help him compete, were ticked. “I never had a doubt that I wouldn’t make the first team, Grant Khomo or Craven Week, I just worked hard and kept on pushing”. And on the days where it got a bit tough and it crossed his mind, he was not alone in dealing with it. “I also had my major influences on the side, my mother, who always pushed me, my cousin and my brothers. It was just a thing of getting my head into the right space, making sure all the negatives get blocked out and I just focus on giving my best”.
And while others would’ve considered trying to stay back a year so they can, get everything out of their schoolboy rugby years, that was the last thing on Javu’s mind. “Staying back to me would’ve been a disadvantage more than an advantage, simply because I found my feet and just wanted to move with the team I was in and not stay back and try maximize my potential. I thought of staying back as a setback more than anything”.
And lucky for him, it’s worked out perfectly, even with his one year away from the competitive game. Javu now feels like he is at the right destination at the right time and so do the Sharks. Separate Sharks sources told Grit Sports last year that, their pursuit of Javu was geared towards him pushing and competing with fellow Border boy Aphelele Fassi for that full back position in the not too distant future. Those definitely sound like high hopes that have been bestowed on his shoulders already. Javu himself is aware of what the plan and the processes are that have been put in place to help him get there, and perhaps it is the union’s transparency that won him over.
“The Sharks approached me wanting to offer me something. They came with the approach of, “this is what we looking for and is expected from you, so with your talent, this is how you can find your balance within the team”. He said. “I think all professional unions have a plan for each contracted player, it’s just that the player needs to trust the process and plan, and then you’ll find your feet”.
Those who are avid followers of the schoolboy game in the Border region could give you a list of Javu’s finest attributes. Comfortable in at least four backline positions including, fullback, wing and flyhalf he is a lethal counter attacking weapon, who is more than capable with the boot as well. He has searing pace but makes good use of his peripheral vision too, as opposed to running like a headless chicken. Do not be fooled by his size, he can get physical too, with a trademark handoff available on sight, but that’s if you can get close to him first, he also possesses an electrifying sidestep, so powerful it resembles the way former President Jacob Zuma deals with the most pressing questions at the State Capture.
But in his own words, what does he bring to the Sharks and why should fans be excited to see him in the future? “I am in no doubt an exciting player who brings all the excitement to the game, I am a good game reader and will excel every chance I get on the ball. I love attacking so much, that I have to get a touch on the ball each time we have it. If I could compare my style of play to any player out there it would be Cheslin Kolbe”. Be excited Sharks fans, be very excited!