Being awol has consequences, but our focus is on Nkosi's health: Bulls CEO Rathbone

Mahlatse Mphahlele Sports reporter
Sbu Nkosi during a Bulls training session in September.
Sbu Nkosi during a Bulls training session in September.
Image: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

As Springbok winger Sbu Nkosi takes baby steps to get back on his feet, the Blue Bulls have refrained from commenting on the consequences he will face for going awol for three weeks.

“He is an employee of the company and being absent without leave for three weeks does have consequences,” said Blue Bulls CEO Edgar Rathbone.

“But again, I think at this stage we are missing the point if our concern is whether he is going to have a contract at the Bulls or not. We have a player who is struggling with mental health issues and going through a really rough patch, and that should be our concern.

“How do we get him back on his feet again so he can stand up and become that superstar rugby player we all know he is? Sbu does have a complicated family environment, which I really don’t want to comment any further on, but any mental health issue or any problem you have, you want to be helped.”

After a long heart-to-heart with Nkosi on Monday, Rathbone said he got the impression the 2019 World Cup-winner is determined to return to the field.

“I got the sense Sbu really wants to get back on his feet and be helped. At this stage his dad is assisting him at his safe space, where he is a son to a father and not Sbu Nkosi the rugby player.

“That is the healing element in his life and we must respect that, but obviously going forward professional help will be needed too. I looked the man in the eye and I could see he was hurting, and that’s my reality.”

Rathbone said Nkosi’s situation must serve as a wake-up call for sporting codes to take mental health seriously.

“It’s a reality check ... we need to review what we are doing and possibly ramp it up. It is national assets who are going through a tough time. We need to find support structures that will make a real difference.

“It is the nature of what we all signed up for. Unlike an office job in the middle of Johannesburg or Sandton, we win or lose every Saturday and that is pressure we need to deal with.

“This was an unfortunate episode of accumulative circumstances. We need to understand that Sbu came on to the scene at a very young age, about 20.

“He left his parents’ house to pursue a dream of going to Jeppe High School for Boys and becoming a professional sportsman. He was a World Cup-winner at the age of 22 or 23.

“Our concern at the moment is not Sbu the rugby player, it is Sbu the person. [Bulls coach] Jake White obviously has a job to do to prepare the team for this weekend. To say he missed team meetings in the plural is exaggerating because he only missed one meeting and was disciplined for that.

“There are concerns for his [Nkosi's] mental wellbeing. That is why Dr Henning Gericke and the team will have to play a big part in mental preparation and making sure our team is in a good mental space.”

Nkosi was reported missing by the Bulls on Saturday and tracked down to his father's home in Emalahleni, Mpumalanga, by the franchise and its security company.

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