In part one of this two-part series aiming to assist the Eastern Province Elephants, we looked at 12 players currently contracted to other unions that can help the Gqeberha outfit on a loan basis.

It is a well-documented fact that the Elephants
do not have the deepest pockets in the South African rugby circles, therefore they will have to be a lot more innovative than the other unions if they’re to find gems and players that are of a good enough level to compete against the top unions.


So part two will explore some left field options that could save the Elephants from a massive dent on their pockets, while still ensuring that they have the quality to raise the level of the current squad.

10. Sinalo Ralo (Tighthead Prop) & Bongumusa Mokoena (Lock) (Both Rhodes University)

We will kick things off by grouping two potentially surprising left field options from a seemingly unlikely source. In years gone by, when the Eastern Cape unions lost players to the biggest unions in the country, they had to think outside the box, increase their scouting network in search of raw diamonds who they can take a risk on, and use their limited resources to try polish them.

For a region that will constantly be susceptible to losing its “big boys” up front, to the top unions in the country, the Rhodes University duo of Ralo and Mokoena represent a ton of potential and raw material for an experienced mentor like Pieter de Villiers to work with. Ralo, who captains the Rhodes side had already been making a name for himself during the previous Varsity Shield campaign, impressing so much, that he caught the eye of the Elephants coaching staff who included him in their initial Preparations Cup preliminary squad last year.

That alone is an outstanding feat, coming from a team that were the whipping boys of the tournament, and even though their fortunes haven’t changed so far in this year’s tournament, nor have people’s opinions of Ralo’s quality. The East London native weighs in at 137 kgs, while standing at 1.91m, offering a very rare combination of height and weight, and one de Villiers and his coaching staff should be licking their lips at the prospects of turning into a polished product.

Mokoena has been equally impressive for Rhodes, putting in a commendable performance notably in their opening round hefty defeat to UKZN at Loftus. The Johannesburg-born lock was not deterred, however, as his quality shone through with a try to cap off his efforts. Standing at 1.82m and 111 kgs in weight he is another rare towering and abrasive figure, who, like Ralo has a deceptive turn of pace about him to go with his aggression. Those are qualities that have been lacking the most from the EP Elephants tight forwards.

Verdict: The level the duo would be expected to step up to, may prove too steep to immediately jump to. A bedding in process behind the scenes where they can be put on special programs tailored to streamline their conditioning for the professional game, without the pressures of being thrust into the deep end, may prove to be what works well for all parties involved. Ralo is a postgraduate student and could be available full time the next year, while it’s still unclear how far along Mokoena is with his studies. But until they both finish their studies they could keep working hard on those programs behind the scenes and hopefully be ready to add quality to the Elephants group in the not too distant future.

9. Mihlali Mosi (Loose Forward/ Nelson Mandela University).

The very impressive Eighthman stole the show during the first bubble of the Varsity Cup, with performances so impressive he was voted Back Row Breaker of the bubble, a feat he earned from a team yet to register their first victory of the tournament. The KwaNobuhle-born (near Kariega) loose forward’s game is a combination of aggressive, abrasive, hard running rugby, and the mobility to attack the space, while still having the intelligence to look around, make the right decisions and passes when they’re on.

At 25-years-old he is far from a youngster, but is also still young enough to be taught new tricks and have his development enhanced to professional levels, in preparations of thrusting him straight into the squad. Before moving to NMU and making his Varsity Cup bow for the Nelson Mandela Bay-based side, Mosi had already been making a name for himself in the Varsity Shield in the colours of the Walter Sisulu University (WSU) All Blacks and is now well on his way to earning his stripes at a level that could catapult him to a professional level in the not too distant future.

Verdict: Mosi’s game displays the maturity that comes with his experience grinding out at a lower level, and him already making an immediate impact at the top varsity level, just goes to show that the cream will always rise to the top. He plays in an area that the Elephants have lacked real thrust in, to compliment the mobility and guile of Anele Lungisa, and with his combination of both those qualities, he could no doubt add quality around the squad immediately.

8. Litha Nkula (Fullback/ Walter Sisulu University)

The captain of what has been a very impressive WSU side, Nkula has been a source of composure and potency as the dynamic All Blacks’ last line of defence. Often reliable in the tackle as well as with the counter attack, the Cape Town-born star offers his side a combination of assurance and flair, with his ability to make the right decisions in tight positions on the field, which has been a feat that has impressed many an onlooker during the current Varsity Shield campaign.

Nkula also has a sound development attached to his rugby, having played key roles for both the Dale College 1st xv as well as Border at the 2016 Craven Week. He then earned an Academy contract at the Blue Bulls, alongside the likes Ruan Nortje and Mihlali Stamper, before moving to the Stellenbosh Academy of Sports. Although he would still be eligible for two more years of Varsity competitions after the current campaign, at soon to be 23, he might be forgiven for feeling he has marketed himself enough as it is, and take any opportunity to turn professional should it be forthcoming.

Verdict: Standing at 1.86m, with a weight of 88 kg’s Nkula is an even rarer combination of height and mass, for an Eastern Cape backline player. Those physical attributes mixed with his apparent skill set, immediately make him even more of an attractive proposition for the EP Elephants. In the Preperations Series the Elephants were highly reliant on Courtney Winnaar at fullback, with former junior international Keanu Vers not providing the type of quality back up that was expected from a player of his pedigree.

Confidence can often be the deciding factor in games, and Nkula has that in bulk. Besides everything else listed about him, he would have that as an advantage over Vers who already seemed to be out of favour for De Villiers. Nkula would also provide a left foot/ right foot option should he play alongside Radabe, Winnaar or Dobela should they all be in the squad. A player with so much quality and the attributes to match, is exactly the type of player the Elephants should be looking to tie to the union on a long term deal, with the view of an immediate impact.

7. Lubabalo Dobela (Flyhalf/ SA Sevens Academy)

Another accomplished Varsity Cup player, who never got the opportunity to prove himself at a senior level above the Supersport Rugby Challenge. Such as the quality the East London resident possess, as he ran on to take his place as a substitute for the Baby Boks in their 2018 bronze medal winning campaign, the commentator threw a plethora of compliments Dobela’s way. That is exactly the type of quality that Elephants could do with, as their lack of quality alternatives in the pivot position was exposed when skipper Innocent Radebe was sidelined by an injury.

Now in a season where the local unions could end up playing each other in home and away legs, the whole squad may need to play its role and a rotation policy is undoubtedly more effective to implement when the squad has as much like for like quality options for each position. Dobela’s presence would not only make those around him better but also push Radebe to find a new level and not rest on his laurels.

Verdict: Dobela is now part of the SA Sevens Academy but is believed to retain an interest in turning out for a professional 15’s side , and what better chance could the former Grey High School scholar get at the moment, than a return to familiar surroundings. We have seen a fair amount of Sevens players make a temporary or permanent switch to 15’s and in Dobela’s case it could be the former, which could be used to market himself for the latter. A player of his calibre would no doubt get plenty of game time, and in a long season, could even play alongside Radebe as 10/15 combination, one that would no doubt get the Elephants fans tongues wagging.

6. Mihlali Stamper (lock/Loose forward/ University of Pretoria)

Komani-born Stamper has been a mainstay of the UP-Tuks side for more than a season now and has forged an impressive rugby pathway for himself as it is. Having made the 2016 Border Craven week side from the unlikely source of Qonce School De Vos Malan, and topping that off with a Blue Bulls Academy contract the next year, Stamper is of a proven a calibre. Playing in a position where the Elephants really lack top quality depth, the lock forward could be presented with the perfect chance to make it at a professional level at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium.

Verdict: The 23-year-old has all the required physical attributes, to withstand the professional game, and much like most of the players on this list, could really benefit from being under the tutelage of a former Springbok coach, during what would be a critical period in his development. He would be ready to go into the squad immediately.

5. Luyolo Dapula (Lock/ loose forward/ Nelson Mandela University)

An obvious option on the list, having been involved in Eastern Province rugby structures before, including a spell with the now defunct Southern Kings. The former Queens College scholar was one of the ex-players hit the hardest by the previous situation at the union, hence his return to the Varsity Cup this year, where he has been putting in gallant efforts in what has often felt like being in vain.

However, the new Elephants regime could assist in changing that narrative by convincing one of their prodigal sons to return and assist them during their rebuild. Surrounding Dapula with most of the quality players on this list and showing him proof of a proper plan with a squad with bags of potential could go a long way in enticing the Madibaz skipper to return and pull over the famous Black and Red hoops again.

Verdict: The powerfully built towering figure, would be the almost perfect acquisition for the Elephants, as yet another lock/flank hybrid like a few other players on both lists. Considering his previous experience, he would have a very good chance of commanding a starting birth as a lock, or a regular rotation option at the very least. The Elephants should be entering into discussions with the 23- year-old’s representatives as soon as possible, as players like him could well leave the country’s shores very soon and De Villiers would not want to be found wanting.

4. Akhona Nela (Centre/ Unattached)

The East London-born player started of his rugby journey at Selborne, earning provincial selection for the u16 Grant Khomo week side in 2011. His exploits at the tournament didn’t go unnoticed either, as he was snapped up by Glenwood High School, and through impressing for the Green Machine, found himself selected for the KZN Craven Week Side.

After high school, the abrasive, burly centre resurfaced at NWU-Pukke and over the years had proven himself to be a mainstay and leader within the side. His aggressive, hard running play, coupled with his vision and turn of pace, had seen him become a menace as well as a rather daunting task for his opposite number to deal with. He was expected to have a massive finale in the 2020 Varsity Cup, before it was curtailed by the pandemic and he now finds himself back home in the Eastern Cape, working.

Verdict: The 26-year-old has all the required attributes for an inside centre, and has shone consistently against top class opposition in the highly competitive environment of the Varsity Cup. Having had a taste of what senior professional rugby is like with the Leopards, Nela is now seeking an opportunity to prove his obvious worth at a professional outfit, to show that he can make the step up to play against some of the top players in the country. Having not been active for a year, he will more than likely have to catch up on his conditioning and match fitness, but once that is out of the way, the Elephants could have a serious asset at their disposal should they consider making an approach for him.

3. Maliviwe Simanga (Hooker/ Unattached)

The name may still be familiar to a national audience, with the powerfully built, stocky hooker dominating the Varsity Shield in 2018, his maiden year in the tournament. “Mliqi” as he is affectionately known or “Big fish”, would go on to win the Player that Rocks Award that year, with his electrifying performances for WSU, turning him into an instant social media sensation in the process.

In fact, The Dale College and Parktown Boy’s Old boy’s performances were so good, they caught the eye of the Southern Kings who, according to him, went as far as offering him a contract. When that didn’t materialize he formed part of the Border Bulldogs’ Supersport Rugby Challenge squad before resurfacing at the Griquas in a failed attempt to secure a contract at the top level.

Verdict: He has been playing club rugby since and taking good care of his body, so with conditioning not an issue, it’s the match fitness that De Villiers and his coaching staff would have to work on. An aggressive, hard running hooker, who also doubles up as a fetcher, could be a really big asset to the Elephants, with Simanga himself admittedly still maintaining hopes of turning professional, and at 27. An opportunity at the Elephants could be his last at fulfilling that dream.

2. Lungelo Gosa (Utility back/ Unattached)

The Qonce-born mercurial star rose to prominence in the Border region in his u16 year with some outstanding performances for both school and region. His performances at Grant Khomo week 2011, earned him selection to the SA U16 High Performance side. The Selborne College and Border Craven Week captain would then earn a contract with the SA Sevens Academy after he won a Gold medal at the Youth Olympics with the SA u17 Sevens side.

In 2016 it looked like his fledging career in the Sevens code would finally reach it’s expected heights when he was named in the SA Sevens preliminary Olympic squad, but when he didn’t make the cut he left the Stellenbosch base. He would then resurface in Gqeberha later that year, in the colours of the then EP Kings before finding a stable home at North West University (NWU)- Pukke. It is through sterling performances for the Potchefstroom university that his name started to regain it’s value, with an increase with each passing week due to his performance levels. In 2019 he enhanced his reputation as a tournament favourite, with some of his scintillating skills often making for attractive viewing for the Varsity Cup social media pages.

Verdict: Having been a Varsity Cup stalwart for years and had some experience in the Supersport Rugby Challenge as well as Currie Cup first division, a move to a potentially Currie Cup Premier Division side could be exactly what his career needs. Having already played at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium, the 26-year-old could well be enticed to return by the prospects of being an instrumental part of his home province union’s renaissance. Having re-invented himself from a hot stepping flyhalf to a full back, then eventually a twinkle toed winger. Gosa would offer De Villiers plenty of options with his versatility. He offers a sweet left boot too as a bonus

1. Sango Xamlashe (Centre/ University of Pretoria)

The first black captain in UP-Tuks’ history’s quality is clear. The former Selborne College scholar and Shimlas student has been a consistent feature in the premier universities rugby competition for a number of years now and coupled with academy backgrounds at both the Cheetahs and the Vodacom Bulls he would represent a big coupe for the Gqeberha-based outfit.

The Elephants side was often void of both leaders and players of a professional ilk in key positions in their backline, with centre being one of those problem areas. Not only does Xamlashe offer a quality option who can play both centre roles almost seamlessly, but his presence in the squad would mean, the addition of yet another leader in the Elephants ranks.

Verdict: Xamlashe was involved with the SA u20 side and was also part of the Blue Bulls triumphant u21 side in 2019, so there is no doubting his acumen coupled with his winning mentality and his experience of winning at a competitive level, matches the dire needs of the Elephants squad at the moment. The more winners form part of the team, the quicker the mentality changes for the better, and Xamlashe could be relishing an opportunity of proving himself at a senior level too.

Having proven himself at Varsity Cup and won a junior Currie Cup, a move to Gqeberha maybe, just until the end of the year, could be used to get himself into the market for a bigger union to come and snap him up and as he turns 23 this year, this could be the perfect moment for that to materialize.

Possible 23 man squad with all targets acquired.
1. Ali Vermaak
2. Sithembiso Befile
3. Asenathi Ntlabakanye
4. Luyolo Dapula
5. Janko Swanepoel
6. CJ Velleman
7. Celimpilo Gumede
8. Roloef Smit
9. Lucky Dlepu
10. Innocent Radebe ©
11. Josiah Twum-Boafo
12. Clinton Swart
13. Diego Appollis
14. Sihle Njezula
15. Courtney Winnaar

16. Jacques Goosen
17. Siya Nzuzo
18. Lupumlo Mguca
19. Mihlali Stamper
20. Jarrod Taylor
21. Joshua Allderman
22. Lubabalo Dobela
23. Sango Xamlashe

More probable 23 with realist targets:

1. Ali Vermaak
2. Sithembiso Befile
3. Asenathi Ntlabakanye
4. Mihlali Stamper
5. Jarrod Taylor
6. CJ Velleman
7. Anele Lungisa
8. Celimpilo Gumede
9. Lucky Dlepu
10. Innocent Radebe ©
11. Josiah Twum-Boafo
12. Mnombo Zwelendaba
13. Sango Xamlashe
14. Sihle Njezula
15. Courtney Winnaar

16. Jacques Goosen
17. Siya Nzuzo
18. Lupumlo Mguca
19. Uzile Tele
20. Mihlali Mosi
21. Joshua Allderman
22. Lubabalo Dobela
23. Lungelo Gosa

Rest of the squad:
24. Marzuq Maarman
25. Maliviwe Simanga
26. Lyle Lombard
27. Emile Klaasen
28. Arnold Kleyn
29. Akhona Nela
30. Litha Nkula
31. Athi Mayinje
32. Xolela Payi
33. Sherwin Slater
34. Luvo Claasen
35. Karlo Aspelling