The Eastern Cape is known as the home of black rugby, producing some of the country’s top players, past and present. But no victory has been so close to the hearts of the people of this city, like the 2019 World Cup.
The headlines shouted victory, with the Webb Ellis Trophy hoisted high by Port Elizabeth born, Siya Kolisi, the first black captain of the Springboks. But the success of the team was partly engineered by another Port Elizabeth born unsung hero – the Boks backline coach, Mzwandile Stick.
Mzwandile Stick’s love for rugby was discovered, groomed and nurtured in New Brighton. Like many other boys from the township, his initial dream was to play soccer – jersey number 10 for Bafana Bafana to be exact.
But after meeting his junior school coach, Siphiwo Mafu, his love for rugby grew. After school, he spent all of his time playing for a local club, Springrose. And doors opened to provincial teams.
His childhood friend, Lungisa “Bomber” January shared his love for rugby. They trained on this field, often hungry, but motivated to make it big.
Stick played for Eastern Province Rugby Union, mainly at fullback, but really made his mark in the National Sevens side.
“I am so happy that he has won. I actually talked to him the day before the game and I told him that it is do or die, now that they are on the battle field and they have to win. I could hear that he is calm and then I knew that the team is ready. I am so happy for this victory. He has really come a long way.”
Stick captained the Springbok Sevens team to their first World Sevens Series title in the 2008-09 season and was famous for kicking a number of crucial drop goals for the Blitzboks.
He started coaching in 2013 with Eastern Province junior teams in Port Elizabeth and was soon promoted to an Assistant Coach with the Southern Kings in Super Rugby.
Stick was granted his first coaching opportunity with the Springboks in 2016 as part of Allister Coetzee’s management team and was then moved to the South Africa under 20 side, as an assistant coach in 2017.
Brother Mtheteleli Stick says, “I am so happy for all that he has achieved, because I know how long it took him to get there. He has really worked hard and above all been very disciplined. You don’t expect anything great to come from New Brighton. So he has also inspired other young rugby players and showed them anything is possible if you believe and work hard.”
Aunt Koliwe Stick says “At a young age we watched him grow as a rugby player and we could see then that he was very passionate about the sport. This achievement means so much to us. He has made us so happy as a family.”
Stick also admired Springboks flyhalf Joel Stranskey, apparently so much that when he played he would mimic him, wearing jersey number 10.
Stick’s rugby school Coach, Siphiwo Mafu states, “What really helped stick was that he was very disciplined. It’s hard to get these young boys to focus on something… but he was dedicated from the word go and pushed himself to work hard all the time. He also never forgot all the things that I taught him as a coach and when I saw his backline at the World Cup I could see that my hard work had paid off.”
Now his family, like thousands of rugby supporters, cannot wait to welcome their hometown heroes and toast their success. –Reporting by Lerato Fekisi in Port Elizabeth.