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18 Jul 2002 00:00
Lawrence Sephaka’s mates used to shake their heads when he went off to rugby practice, or if he told them that his dream was to become a Springbok. It wasn’t that they thought he couldn’t play the game, it was sorrowful disbelief that he wanted to.
When the 15-year-old first picked up a rugby ball in 1994 he was actually crossing his own private Rubicon and in Wellington on Saturday that decision bears full fruit.
Sephaka will line up in a Springbok front row to face New Zealand that also draws on more established sources for the hard men of the scrummage; he is next to the big-city street fighter (James Dalton) and the Free State farmer (Willie Meyer).
And anywhere else in the world it would be seen as a delicious irony that Uli Schmidt, who was once erroneously quoted as saying “blacks can’t play rugby”, is Sephaka’s team doctor.
But this is South Africa, where miracles are supposed to happen every day.
And here’s another miracle; “Lorry’s” mates are pretty sure to be plonking themselves down in front of the television on Saturday morning to see how their friend goes on against the most universally admired rugby machine in the world.
“When things started to happen for me, my friends became more interested in the game,” says Sephaka. “And now they always want to come and watch me play.”
He doesn’t say it, but it must have been a bewildering progress to this point for him.
As a talented black tight- forward he has been fast-tracked into Springbok squads at the same time as he has been overlooked at provincial level.
Only this season Sephaka was left out of the Cats starting XV until injury to Heinrich Kok gave him the chance to start in the final four matches.
“As a player I look at it from a different angle,” he says. “If you are not playing in the team you are doing something wrong. It means you have to go back and work on it. It meant I had to go back and dig deep.”
Part of that digging has been to shed excess kilos and he is now down to an ideal 112kg to 115kg. He is massively muscled around the shoulders, arms and back and has the ballast in his backside to present a formidable obstacle to All Black strongman Greg Somerville.
Neither Somerville nor the prospect of the haka unduly fazes him, but he has that in common with the rest of this Springbok squad.
Heaven knows what the expectations are back home—and with history stacked against the Boks, can they be all that high?—but there is a genuine sense in the squad that they don’t just have a chance but that they can win.
“We’re up for it,” says Sephaka, and there was certainly an air of understated confidence among the squad this week.
And why not? Beating 15 New Zealanders in a rugby match is small beer compared to transforming a black soccer player from Reiger Park into a Springbok prop in eight years.
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