Johannesburg - When he took the phone call for this interview, Odwa Ndungane was in the process of cleaning up the mess caused by the storm which ripped through Durban on Tuesday.
In a way it was fitting that the 36-year-old was, for the umpteenth time, on his knees doing the jobs nobody wants to do because practically his whole career was about mopping up so that others could soak up the plaudits.
Few men have been prouder of putting in an honest day’s work in a career that has spanned 17 years; three provincial teams (Border, the Bulls and the Sharks) and the Springboks; over 300 first class games; and 97 tries and a conversion he can’t, for the life of him, remember nailing.
Asked to describe his career now that he at least has the Sharks’ Currie Cup semifinal on Saturday left in it – Saturday's final round-robin game against Western Province was his tribute match – Ndungane didn’t exactly leap at the chance to big himself up.
“I’m a guy who’s a hard worker,” he began.
Looked for work
“I’m not the most talented but I worked a lot on my skills and I always looked for work even though I was a wing. I had some talent but I had to work hard to keep up with the more talented guys".
Yet for all that supposed talent deficiency, Ndungane’s career has been more than just adequate – it’s a nod to consistency, dependability and steely determination.
This is especially the case when considering his beginnings as a Sharks player after joining them from the Bulls 12 years ago.
“When I arrived I never thought I’d stay so long,” he explained.
“I couldn’t do anything right and my confidence took such a knock. Even the public started saying the Sharks had bought the wrong twin because Akona [Ndungane’s identical twin brother] was thriving at the Bulls.
“It was so bad that I almost loaned myself out to Griquas, but when I spoke to my dad and my other brother about it, they said I shouldn’t do it. Those times made me a better person and player...they taught me I couldn’t breeze through my career and I had to work hard".
A case in point is Ndungane’s favourite try, which demonstrates his mind-over-matter approach.
Back in 2007, he scored against the Crusaders during the round-robin stages of the Super 14.
Ndungane had knocked-on over the tryline early in the game and was given a chance to make amends in the last move of the game.
He finished in the corner with Scott Hamilton in close attendance, a try that warranted two minutes of scrutiny by the television match official: “It has to be my best try because of what had happened before and the way I started off.
“Luckily Ruan [Pienaar] made the conversion from the touchline for us to win the game".
The Ndungane brothers’ staying power at the Sharks and the Bulls have become an example of what black players can achieve: “Going to two of the biggest unions and staying there was a massive achievement for us.
"I’m very proud of that and it also shows every African child they can do it.
“The important thing is to get opportunities and backing by the coach because there are so many things that can put you off: injuries, loss of form and pressure from the media and the public".
Currently living in Durban with his wife Kgomotso, daughter Amahle (5) and son Anathi (nine months), Ndungane said his retirement plans include running his two-year-old company, Ndungane Constructions. Ndungane co-founded the company with Sharks CEO and former Springbok captain Gary Teichmann, who is currently a stakeholder.
“Gary and I started it in 2015 and I used my days off to learn the ropes. It’s exciting, something totally different to what I know".
Ndungane said he would miss a lot of things about playing rugby.
“I’ll miss the camaraderie, especially after being at the Sharks for so long, driving to the stadium for games or for gym, getting onto the field, the friendships made and the banter.
"What I won’t miss is pre-season training, something I enjoyed at first but later in my career I didn’t. I’ll pop in during next year’s pre-season just to remind myself that I’ve made the right decision".