Johannesburg - Springbok Trevor Nyakane admits that this season has seen a mind-shift from him that might explain his rapid rise to the forefront of the South African rugby stocks when it comes to that most priceless of assets - the tighthead prop.
For a long time Nyakane’s potential value to the Boks seemed to lie in the fact that he was one of those players who could shift to tighthead from his usual position of loosehead should the need arise. In other words he was a swinger, one of those who had versatility as his most significant virtue.
But 2019 has changed that perception of Nyakane for those who watch, commentate or write about the game, and significantly, it appears to have changed for Nyakane himself.
“I am accepting now what it is and what I am,” said Nyakane after testing the knee that forced him from the playing field against Japan at the Arcs Rugby Club in Tokyo Bay on Sunday morning with a running session.
“Before I was primarily a loosehead and tighthead was just something that I was occasionally covering. Now it is a case of me telling myself ‘Trevor, you have to take it full on now and embrace it and be willing to learn’. That is what I have done. I have made a big attempt to focus on what is needed and to absorb everything I can about the position from different coaches and other sources.
“It hasn’t been perfect, but I feel like I am getting there and I have started to make good progress thanks to the inspiration of lots of different people.”
Indeed, to the point that Nyakane now makes no bones about the fact that he’d like the No 3 jersey, signifying starting tighthead prop, and not the No 18 that signifies reserve or back-up prop as his own.
“I do want the No 3 jersey, I think everyone has the ambition of being in the starting team,” said Nyakane.
“But obviously I am also happy to play an impact role if that is what the team needs me to do. Whatever role you play as a prop, whether it is as a starting player or as someone who comes on to impact the game later on, it is an important one. I suppose the bottom line is that as long as at the end of the day the Springboks have won the game, that is the most important focus.”
Nyakane spent more time than most of his Springbok teammates on the playing field during Super Rugby. He admits that playing so much rugby might have worn him down had it not been for the rest time that he was given by Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus once the players got into the national camp set-up.
“Some of us guys who played a lot of Super Rugby got some time off. At the end of Super Rugby I did feel a bit tired, but thanks to the time I was given off I feel fresh. As a top sportsman you just have to reboot and get stuck in, it is what you are paid to do. You don’t hear people complaining that they have to work a whole day throughout the year. So you won’t hear me complaining. I’ve had my chance to recuperate.
“And playing all the games in Super Rugby did have its benefits. It helps you build up experience (particularly when getting used to a newish position). Playing week in and week out means you get yourself into trouble a lot on the field, but at the same time you are forced to find ways to get yourself out of trouble. It is the best way to learn what to do and what not to do. The more you stay on the park, the more you learn.”
Whether or not Nyakane will be part of the Bok team that faces the All Blacks in the crucial World Cup Pool B opener in Yokohama on Saturday depends on how his knee responds to contact when he joins his teammates in training from Monday. He ran solo on the training field in Tokyo Bay on Sunday.
He gives the impression he would desperately like to be there to face South Africa’s arch-rivals and the reigning champions, but it he is not, he takes the philosophical view that this World Cup is about much more than just one game against the All Blacks.
“We’ve spent a long time building up to this Rugby World Cup, but not just for the All Black game, for the whole thing. I’ve always had the view if you want to win this trophy you have to beat the best teams, and whether you play them first or whenever is not really relevant. We’ve just got to be ready, and we have to treat every game as a final. It is what it is, it is a game between the All Blacks and South Africa, and we know that that entails.”
The team for the match against the All Blacks will be named on Wednesday and unless Nyakane fails his fitness test this week it will be the same 23 that did duty against Japan in the final warm-up game on 6 September.
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