COACH'S BOX | Our fallen heroes gone, but will not be forgotten

The tragic deaths of Swallows captain, Mzwandile Yalezo, 29, tighthead prop Onke Gqadushe, 27, and team manager Tyron Roberts, 49, in a car accident last Saturday have been like salt to a wound.

Roberts was the Border team manager at the recent SuperSport Rugby Challenge. SA Rugby president Mark Alexander described the events: “Rugby is such a tight-knit family, especially in the Eastern Cape, and the loss of ‘Zwayi’, Onke and Tyron will be deeply felt by all who knew them.”

Administratively, Border is going through the wringer and things aren’t aided by the meddling that SA Rugby has done to the premier club rugby competition in the country, the Gold Cup (which I wrote about last week).

The loss of life is always tragic, but losing the Swallows trinity, right after a victorious outing against Ocean Sweepers, really twisted the knife.

Moments like these always call for deep spiritual reflection. People, especially those given the podiums and microphones at memorials and burials, have the proclivity to make grand statements and grand pronouncements.

I remember when one of my close friends, Solly Tyibilika, a former Border Bulldog himself, died under very tragic circumstances in Cape Town in November 2011.

I not only grew up in the same township as Solly (New Brighton, Port Elizabeth) but I mentored him throughout the early parts of his career and I took care of him when he and Anda Gcilitshana first came to Griquas in 2000.

Of course, events of the past week have brought back the horrors of the days that followed the news that Solly was late. I got a call from the former Springbok team manager Zola Yeye, who said to me: “Breaking News! We are not certain, but it looks as if Solly is late.”

In my book, Being A Black Springbok, I wrote that Solly was a good guy and that the main cause of his downfall were some of the wrong friends he had hung around after finding wealth in professional rugby and making the Springboks. He had ostracised many of the guys he grew up with, such as Mzwandile Stick and myself, in favour of “hangers on”.

At Solly’s funeral I spoke of how the time for change was upon us. The time for acceptance of different races and cultures in rugby was nigh. It was obvious that Solly was driven astray by a feeling of unease inside professional rugby corridors, where he should have been at home the most. If he found acceptance in rugby, he would not have gone seeking it at an unsavoury tavern at New Crossroads, where he met his demise.

What made matters, for me, really sour after Solly’s loss were the politicians that used his funeral to make false promises of change. To this day, I am awaiting the Solly Tyibilika Academy promised by the former Minister of Sports and Recreation Fikile Mbalula.

That day, Mbalula strode up to the mic, and said the right things to vulnerable mourners. He spoke of change, transformation and, of course, the coming of an academy that would guide young and, chiefly, black rugby talent to deal with the trappings that come with the sport.

A similar wave will wash over East London and King William’s Town in these painful days of reflection. Last Thursday a memorial was held for the late trio in King William’s Town, which I unfortunately could not attend.

Those that did witnessed the attendance of high-ranking Buffalo City municipal officials. I’m told Mrs Pam Tshwete, wife of the late great sports minister Steve Tshwete, had some comforting words for the mourners. The MEC for sport in the province, Bulelwa Tunyiswa, was also there.

There were plenty present at the memorial who are the precise people Border Rugby Union needs to help find solutions to the financial drain that’s occurred in the province.

Nonetheless, I want to say Lalani ngoxolo maqhawe Rest in peace, our heroes.

I would like to finish off on a more positive note and talk about the genius of the “Butterworth Express”, Aphiwe Dyantyi.

Watching him tear the Waratahs apart during the Super Rugby semifinal between the Lions and the Waratahs last week was something to behold. His try – a brilliant solo effort – reminded me of the retired Bryan Habana in style and finish.

He bobbed, weaved, chipped, chased, ran and finished past a hapless Bernard Foley. He was like a fine racehorse in motion, and it is a pity injury deprived him of the full 80 minutes.

If handled right, Dyantyi could be the fulcrum of the Springboks for many years to come. He is a star in the making, and thank goodness he didn’t listen to whoever told him he was too small to play rugby, back in high school.

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