With his dreadlocks, husky voice and laid-back nature, Simnikiwe Xabanisa is a bit like the Lenny Kravitz of rugby writers. And his summary of 25 years of Vodacom Super Rugby sounds exactly like a rock stars take on this iconic rugby competition.
“Super Rugby was just mad, man,” says the man who covered some epic moments in Super Rugby history. “It has been a part of our lives. How can you not miss it?”
Xabanisa was still a student when the inaugural Vodacom Super Rugby competition kicked off in 1996. And his own career in journalism evolved with the competition.
“I grew up on this stuff. I grew up watching these greats of world rugby, and then I was writing about them. It’s crazy because some of these players came in as youngsters of world rugby and left as old men. That’s how long this has been a part of our lives.
“Looking back on all the stars, Fourie du Preez always stood out for me. I really feel the Vodacom Bulls would never have been anywhere near as good as they were without him. He was a gamechanger. South African rugby players were never considered the players who thought about the game because we play such a physical brand of rugby. But Fourie thought his way around the field. I don’t think the Vodacom Bulls would’ve won three Super Rugby titles without him, and I also firmly believe the Springboks would have struggled to win the World Cup without him. He was that good in my mind. And I also feel that the 2007 Springbok team and the players that emerged from Vodacom Super Rugby to be part of that team is the best World Cup team we’ve ever produced in terms of sheer talent. That’s the kind of contribution Super Rugby has made.”
And there is one Super Rugby match that will forever remain in Xabanisa’s mind.
“The 2007 Super Rugby final between the Vodacom Bulls and the Sharks in Durban. I remember arriving in the press box, and I plugged my laptop in and started writing as the match got underway. But I hadn’t plugged it in properly. So it was on battery the whole time. Just before the end of the match, my battery died and I lost my whole article. So I just decided I would sit there and watch the final minutes of a match everybody thought the Sharks had won. All my colleagues had written their pieces as well.
“And then came Bryan Habana and that try, and that memorable finish. While I waited for my laptop to start again, I just watched it all unfold and soaked it in. And then I started rewriting everything, and when I looked up I had written 800 words. That was an incredible match to witness.”
And with a sip of his coffee, Xabanisa sums up perfectly what 25 years of Super Rugby has meant to all of us.
“This is 25 years of my life. You know, people often joke and say that’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back. Well, this was 25 years of my life I’d love to get back.”