Port Elizabeth - Tango Balekile, one of the stars from Eastern Province’s famous 2015 under-19 Currie Cup-winning side, is relishing his time with the Southern Kings in the PRO14.
When one talks about recent successes of Eastern Province rugby, the Mzwandile Stick-coached EP under-19 side of 2015 is sure to get a mention.
This was a side that surprised many by beating some of the top South African unions to claim the much sought-after trophy. Many of the young stars from that team have since moved on to other unions and overseas.
These include Junior Pokomela (Cheetahs), Jeremy Ward (Sharks) and James Hall (Oyonnax, France).
"I was part of that great side, and that remains a great memory for me personally," Balekile reflected on the success of the team.
"It was always about having fun on the field while executing the things we believed we could achieve. It is good to see that most of the players from that group are still doing well. It’s good to see that they can still produce what they are really good at."
The 22-year-old hooker was born in East London where he attended Selborne College, and went on to captain the first XV at the school in 2014. He played provincial age-group rugby for the Border Bulldogs, including the under-16 team at the Grant Khomo Week in 2012, the under-18 Academy side in 2013 and captained the Border Craven Week side in 2014.
Post his schooldays and his exploits in the EP under-19 side, Balekile went on to represent Nelson Mandela University’s Madibaz in the Varsity Cup before being called up to the South African under-20 team that played in the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Manchester, England, in 2016. He played in five matches in the competition as the side finished fourth overall.
Balekile was also part of arguably the most successful Southern Kings team which recorded their best season in Super Rugby in 2017.
He has been one of the more consistent faces in the side’s match-day squad this season, establishing himself as one of the front-runners for the Southern Kings’ No2 jersey.
"The hard work that we put in on a weekly basis, we always hope it will come to fruition on game day. It’s all been about putting in the hard work at training and then being able to execute it in our games," Balekile says about his involvement in the Southern Kings team.
His first name, Tango, is derived from a Xhosa word which refers to the fencing around a homestead’s kraal which keeps family livestock protected within safe boundaries.
The hooker alluded to the fact that, in a similar manner to the origins of his given name, he intends on protecting the team’s goals more than his own personal ambitions of becoming a household name.
"All I’d like to see is the team executing all of the things that we practise week in and week out. For my own career, that is the main positive I look for - just to be able to have fun on the field. I’m all for the team and I always believe in the team. It’s all about sticking it out and putting the interests of the team first," he said.
Balekile is eager for the Southern Kings to make amends for last week’s PRO14 defeat to Connacht (31-14) when the side takes on Italian side, Benetton, at the Nelson Mandela University’s Madibaz Stadium on Saturday.
"We are looking to target this coming game. The boys have been putting in the good graft, we just hope to see it all coming together on the weekend," he said.
"They definitely are a good bunch with big, strong runners. We will just want to impose what we always train on them this weekend - that is our main focus."
The match will kick-off at 19:15 on Saturday.