Johannesburg - If ever there was a moment to convey how Southern Kings winger Makazole Mapimpi has captured the rugby public’s imagination, it was when Bulls and Springboks lock Lood de Jager imitated his “call me” try celebration when he scored against the Jaguares last weekend.
When the Super Rugby season began, few outside diehard Border Bulldogs fans had heard of Mapimpi, even though the 26-year-old had already played 54 games for the Bulldogs. But, with the Kings, he introduced himself the only way a winger should – by scoring tries.
Going into the weekend, Mapimpi was joint second on the try-scorer’s list on six, with four of those having been scored away from Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, the Kings’ home; and at such unforgiving places such as Kings Park in Durban and in Australia.
News is that the Cheetahs have signed him for the Currie Cup – not bad for a man whose name rugby followers still struggle to pronounce.
Loosely translated, ‘Mapimpi’ means snakes in isiXhosa, and the man from Tsholomnqa, outside East London, certainly strikes with the deadliness of one.
Mapimpi’s journey to the big time is not one of Grant Khomo or Craven Week. He is fortunate to have come from Tsholomnqa, an area described by coach David Dobela as a “breeding ground” for the province’s rugby players.
Players such as former Border Bulldogs centre Vusumzi Mbulali, winger Ian Fihlani and Griffons lock Samora Fihlani, are all from the area.
According to Dobela, Mapimpi made the Border Under-19 and Under-21 junior teams before disappearing from the system for a couple of years.
“Then he got a chance to play with Winter Roses and Swallows,” said Dobela, referring to two clubs in Mdantsane.
“Then we picked him up about four years ago when we started building this team. He’s a very talented and a very humble young man.”
Able to play both wings equally well, many would be surprised to learn that Mapimpi was an outside centre when he made his breakthrough.
“He was a 13-year-old who used to kick at goal when our kickers were not firing,” said Dobela.
In the 2015 Vodacom Cup, he scored a hat-trick and kicked Border’s points in Masixole Banda’s absence in their final game of the season – against the Boland Cavaliers – scoring 24 of his team’s points in a 29-5 victory.
Looking at him play, it’s easy to see the centre influence in his game because he is as adept at finishing as he is at putting others away, thanks to an eye for the half-gap and the offload. But when it comes to out and out finishing, few are better at it because of his pace, alertness and good feet.
As a testament to how good his feet are, Reds fullback Karmichael Hunt – who was turned inside out so many times en route to Mapimpi’s second try last weekend he had his blood twisted, as the English like to say – will agree.
But Dobela cautions that his now former charge is still a touch on the raw side.
“He can go all the way, but the coaches working with him need to be patient and be prepared to coach him. One of the things he needs to work on is catching the high ball, which is teachable.
“He also needs to work on working with his defensive systems and not shoot out on his own. He only does it when the numbers are against him, but he still needs to work with the system around him.”
Eastern Province Kings coach Robbi Kempson said he was impressed with the little he had seen of Mapimpi.
“He’s an impressive new talent,” he said. “While he’s not the complete article yet, signing with the Cheetahs means he’ll get better and better. Off the field, he’s respectful and an absolute gent with a steady temperament.
“These are guys who make it in rugby,” he said.