Homecoming King

PUBLISHED: April 27, 2005

It’s not often you meet a South African rugby player who doesn’t like golf. Professional sportsmen tend to spend most of their spare time on the golf course and can talk for hours about their last round or how they’ve improved their handicap.

Hanyani Shimange is not like everyone else. He hates golf and would far rather get blisters on his thumbs from tapping on his PlayStation controller.

‘I’m getting quite good at Fifa Football,’ he laughs. ‘It’s very addictive and I spend hours playing. I know Rugby 2005 has just been released, but I prefer soccer. I couldn’t come home from training and then play more rugby on PlayStation. I’d burn myself out!’

The Springbok hooker is glad to be back in Cape Town after a round trip that has taken him to Pretoria, England, Durban and Bloemfontein. He’s just bought a loft apartment in the CBD and is settling back into the Cape way of living.

Shimmie started playing rugby at Bishops when he was 13 years old as the school didn’t offer soccer, before moving to Rondebosch Boys’ High where he played alongside development rugby contemporaries Oginga Siwundla and Gcobani Bobo.

‘I was lucky to attend two great schools in such a beautiful area of the Cape,’ he recalls. ‘As a boarder, I would watch all the rugby and cricket. Both schools had a great sense of tradition and you always felt like you were a part of something special.’

Shimmie signed his first provincial contract in 1999, with the Sharks soon after the U21 World Championships. It was Springbok coach Jake White, then a technical advisor at the Sharks and coach of the national U21 team, who was influential in Shimmie’s move to Durban.

Having studied Information Science at the University of Pretoria, Shimmie spent a year in England on a working holiday before returning to the capital to complete his degree. Instead, he ended up in White’s U21 team that won the World Championships in Argentina.

While Shimmie enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere in Durban, he found his progress blocked by two Springbok hookers, John Smit and Lukas van Biljon. Tired of hitting his head on a glass ceiling, Shimmie packed his bags and swapped Durban’s delights for Bloem’s boerewors.

At the time, it was considered strange for a black South African to consider moving to a conservative city like Bloemfontein, but having followed the success of Zimbabwean Kennedy Tsimba at the Cheetahs, Shimmie knew he was making a clever move.

After three enjoyable years and 35 matches with the Cheetahs, Shimmie found his progress blocked by shortsighted coaches who he believed still considered him a development player. Despite his involvement with the Springbok squad throughout 2004, he warmed the bench for the Cheetahs in the Absa Currie Cup.

Then Shimmie’s luck changed. Midway through the tournament, Investec Western Province expressed an interest in the frustrated hooker and negotiated a deal through his agent. The contract was signed and Cape Town’s prodigal son was on his way home.

‘It was great to have the opportunity to come back to the city where it all began for me,’ he says. ‘I remember going to Newlands as a kid and watching Tiaan Strauss, now I’m running out for the Stormers. Playing for the Sharks and Cheetahs was a huge honour, but my heart is in the Cape and it’s where I plan to stay.

However, after all the time he’s spent picking up splinters over the last two years, Shimmie’s goal for 2005 is to nail down a starting spot in every squad he’s picked for.

His first start in this year’s Vodacom Super 12 came against the Highlanders at the ‘House of Pain’. ‘People told me I had played well in Dunedin, but I felt I could have done a lot better,’ he says. ‘It’s simple, the more playing time I get, the better I will perform.’

He was out for two weeks with a sternum injury and returned for last week’s game against the Blues. Now he hopes for an extended run to get back to the form he knows he is capable of producing.

Meanwhile, the Investec Stormers on Saturday will have to do without the services of not only centre Jean de Villiers, but also Faan Rautenbach and Quinton Davids. Added to that Joe van Niekerk is a doubtful starter due to an ankle injury.