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Springbok in waiting

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Aphelele Fassi: ‘When I get that ball I back myself to go all the way to the tryline’

STATISTICS sometimes have a bad name because they can be wrongly interpreted, but in the case of Aphelele Fassi they do a fine job in confirming that the young Sharks fullback is a Springbok in waiting.

Willie le Roux is the incumbent Bok No 15, and rightly so, and Warwick Gelant is at last hitting form for the Bulls, but right now it is Fassi who is the talk of the town thanks to his consistently exhilarating form in Super Rugby.

After seven rounds of the competition, the 22-year-old has made more metres with ball-in-hand than any of the hundreds of players on duty for the 15 franchises (second is Mark Telea of the Blues and Rosko Specman of the Bulls is third). Fassi’s speedy attacks add up to 622 metres or an average of 88m per game.

In making those vital metres for the Sharks, Fassi has beaten a staggering 33 would-be tacklers, the second most in the competition (Telea tops the list and George Bridge of the Crusaders is third).

Fassi has made 12 clean breaks in his seven matches, the fifth most in Super Rugby – that list is topped by another fullback in Emiliano Boffeli of the Jaguares (16), and it is pleasing to note that Specman is second on the list (14).

If Fassi goes on to become a Bok, it will in part be thanks to the advice he has taken to heart from the Sharks’ backline representatives in last year’s World Cup squad.

Fassi, a schoolboy three years ago, says Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi have taken him under their collective wing.

“They told me: back yourself, be yourself, focus on the present and work hard so that when the opportunities come in games you are ready to grab them with confidence,” Fassi said.

Fassi says he is also indebted to a former Bok, Pat Lambie, who is a kicking consultant at the Sharks.

“Coach Sean (Everitt) and I looked at my game in the off-season and the obvious areas to brush up on were my tackling and kicking,” Fassi said. “I put a lot of work into those areas in the off-season and Pat has played a big role in improving my kicking.”

Lambie was forced to retire from the game in 2018 because of concussion and on return home to Durban from France, where he had been playing for Racing 92, he has been looking after the kickers at the Sharks and also has an important role in mentoring the youngsters.

“Pat is an inspiration and he obviously knows what he is talking about. He has been very good for me and there are quite a few things we have worked into my kicking game that have resulted in better all-round performances from me this season,” Fassi said. He adds that an important lesson he has learned from the former Bok flyhalf/fullback is to not dwell on mistakes.

“Negative energy does not belong to me,” Fassi said. “Obviously you learn from your mistakes and you work your butt off to rectify them in training, but you are much better served focusing on what you do well.

“For me, the positives of rugby are the camaraderie among the players, the atmosphere at the games and I love getting the ball and doing the best I can with it! When I get that ball I back myself to go all the way to the tryline.”

Quite often he does just that. He scored an avalanche of tries at school for Dale College, for the Sharks last year in the Currie Cup and now in Super Rugby.

There is no reason why he can’t do the same for the Boks.