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Ndungane - the unusual Blue Bull

By Bruce Fraser | Sep 30, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

THIS eligible bachelor enjoys listening to Afrikaans-pop icon Steve Hofmeyr, reads theBible, has winners' medals representing his beloved Blue Bulls in the Super 14 and Currie Cup, plus has the rare honour of being part of a World Cup winning team.

THIS eligible bachelor enjoys listening to Afrikaans-pop icon Steve Hofmeyr, reads theBible, has winners' medals representing his beloved Blue Bulls in the Super 14 and Currie Cup, plus has the rare honour of being part of a World Cup winning team.

No, we're not talking about his teammates Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha or Bryan Habana but 28-year-old Akhona Ndungane who is as Xhosa as ibhokhwe and mngqusho (samp).

Nevertheless he assures me his blood is blue.

Arriving half an hour early for our scheduled appointment at his Pretoria flat, his younger brother makes us welcome while his more famous sibling dries off from an early morning shower.

Apart from a large-screen TV mounted to the wall and a small table with his trophies proudly displayed, there are none of the trappings one would expect from a world-famous sportsperson.

"I am often on the road with the team," Ndungane explains.

Before starting our interview I promise him it won't take longer than 40 minutes. Two hours later and having discussed everything from racism to facing the All Blacks haka, from the dizzy heights of World Cup glory to the lows of injury, there was still so much to ask him.

But Ndungane wasn't brought up on a staple diet of rugby like so many rugby players, but used to kick a soccer ball about in his primary school days at Saint Patrick's in Mthatha, Eastern Cape.

He has three other brothers - his twin and also Springbok player Odwa - plus one older and one younger sibling with whom he lives.

Back then soccer was the game, Kaizer Chiefs the team, and Doctor Khumalo the man.

"Even today when time permits I go along with my friends and watch Chiefs play. I can remember going to watch them play Bush Bucks in Mthatha. I wanted to be like Doctor Khumalo.

"On Sundays though, we used to go and watch my dad play rugby."

When the boys were ready for high school his parents, Zingisa and Sheilla, took the decision to move to East London, believing the schooling would be better and there would be more opportunities.

At Hudson Park High, Ndungane was exposed to the hurly-burly world of rugby and took a liking to it.

"I was only 14 when I started playing rugby and went on to represent the province at Coca-Cola week," he says.

It was only in his matric year (1998) that he realised he could make a living out of rugby, but in case that didn't work out he enrolled to study quantity surveying at Port Elizabeth Technikon.

Both Akhona and Odwa were making waves on the rugby scene and it wasn't long before the talent scouts from Border rugby came knocking.

"They offered my twin brother a two-year contract but rumour has it they couldn't tell us apart and they actually wanted me to sign, but my brother signed," he says with a chuckle.

It was at Eastern Province rugby that Ndungane had his first taste of the professional game and then it was a move to the heart of Afrikaner rugby, Loftus Versfeld.

Were you worried, scared? I ask.

"Before moving to the Sharks my brother played there and he encouraged the move, saying I would enjoy it.

"I wanted to play with the likes of Victor Matfield. I wasn't worried about it being an Afrikaans environment because if I could make my mark I would be part of the team and they would treat me the same. It's a great environment," he says.

Any discrimination?

"None whatsoever. I have never felt any sort of racism towards me. The mentality instilled by coach Heyneke Meyer is the fact that our different cultures do not matter. We are there to do a job and to achieve that we must work together. We are not going to win a game on our own ... but because of the guys next to us."

The Blue Bulls appear to be a strong unit on and off the field.

In pre-season training they have up to four sessions a day, but teammates still find time to share a drink, a braai and a laugh.

"It makes the team stronger if we know each other on a personal level as well," he says.

Being selected for the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France is one of many highlights in his life.

He only made one appearance during the tournament but realises the team comes first and the coach had a set plan.

In August he picked up the worst injury of his career while playing for the Blue Bulls against the Leopards - a double fracture of his left leg.

His strong family and team ties have helped him through this.

"I come from a very close family and my father has instilled strong values in each of us. As a family we went to church every Sunday, which I still do today."

He is still hobbling around on crutches but hopes to resume light training in a few weeks' time and return in next year's Super 14.

But what's it like to face an All Blacks haka?

"The first time I played the All Blacks was at Loftus Versfeld. I had seen it on TV as a kid and wondered what it would be like to face it. They have a very strong rugby culture and it was an honour to be part of it.

"They try to intimidate you, but it also motivates you."


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