Currie Cup

'Giant' strides for Pumas lock

2014-09-10 13:13
Lubabalo Mtyanda (Gallo Images)
Nelspruit - Pumas lock Lubabalo "Giant" Mtyanda is proof that South African players will be rewarded if they work hard when given opportunities.

The Pumas have been the surprise packages of the 2014 Currie Cup, winning four out of their five games, including a Sharks scalp at the Mbombela Stadium and an impressive away victory against the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

It's been a collective effort by the men from Nelspruit, but one of the outstanding performers has been second-rower Mtyanda.

At the age of 28, you could call him a journeyman.

Having started his provincial career in his hometown of Port Elizabeth at Eastern Province in 2005, he moved to the Golden Lions, where he spent three years in Johannesburg. He then featured for SWD between 2009 and 2013 before receiving an offer from Pumas head coach Jimmy Stonehouse.

"At the time, I knew Jimmy quite well. He coached me when I played for the SA President's XV in Georgia last year, and he's seen me play for the opposing team many times," Mtyanda told the MyPlayers website. "I was spending my last few weeks at SWD, and he asked me if I'd be interested to play for the Pumas in 2014.

"I saw it as a great opportunity as I struggled to find the right opportunities, especially when it came to game time. The move to the Pumas offered me a chance to earn regular playing time in the Vodacom Cup and Currie Cup Premier Division, which was exciting for me. I had the opportunity to showcase my ability in top competitions against the best provinces in the country."

Standing at 1.98m and weighing 138kg, it's no secret why he's called "Giant". But where does the nickname come from?

"When I played club rugby at Spring Rose in the Eastern Cape, the players couldn't pronounce my name," he explained. "So they called me Giant! I said that name was never going to stick, but boy, was I wrong. It's weird hearing the SuperSport commentators calling me that nickname."

Mtyanda has proven to be an effective recruit for the Pumas. He's started in all four wins, and scored a vital try in the 32-22 home win over defending champions the Sharks.

"I'm not ready to call myself a lock who can score many tries a season just yet. Maybe if I score three more during the Currie Cup, you can write that about me," he quipped. "But on a serious note, the Pumas' success so far has been a collective effort from coaches and players. There's great camaraderie in the squad, which has been around since I arrived at the start of the year.

"The coaches have shown faith in us and they have worked hard behind the scenes. Jimmy's a confident guy, and we have inherited that confidence from him.

"From a team perspective, the players play for each other. We have a strong bond and that shows on the field. We have tough fixtures ahead of us, but if we can add to our current momentum, we will do well this season."

The Pumas are aiming for a Currie Cup playoff spot. Not many people would've believed in that goal at the start of the campaign, but Mtyanda said this is changing.

"The players are getting noticed more often in Nelspruit these days, especially after our wins against the Sharks and Cheetahs. It's a great feeling," he explained. "We know we have to win games to attract the supporters to Mbombela Stadium. We've won all of our home games so far, and we want to keep that record."

Looking ahead, Mtyanda hopes his form this season will offer him more opportunities in future.

"I feel at home at the Pumas," said Mtyanda. "There aren't many distractions here, so I can focus on my rugby. I do miss my older sister and brother back at home in PE, but I call them regularly. They are proud of me.

"Many Pumas players have gone on to play Super Rugby for the Lions. I've seen how those players come back to Nelspruit as better players because of this experience. Hopefully, I can get the same opportunity.

"I also want to continue helping Pumas rugby grow and improve. I think we've made a big statement in the Currie Cup this season. In the long-term, my dream would be getting the chance to play overseas.”

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