EXCLUSIVE: Lions flanker Vincent Tshituka chats with Sport24

Lions coward striker Vincent Tshituka

Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

  • Dynamic Lions loose striker Vincent Tshituka, who set the United Rugby Championship on fire, talks about his fight for citizenship and his dream of playing for the Boks.
  • The player, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but who has lived most of his life in South Africa, talks about the depth of the Springboks’ back line and the idolatry of Pieter-Steph du Toit.
  • The 23-year-old, who cut his teeth playing for UJ in the Varsity Cup, also reveals if he has future ambitions to play abroad and how long he has left under contract with the Lions.

Sport24 asked: How would you rate three Man of the Match awards in four weeks?

Vincent Tshituka: I can only say that I’m grateful to God for being honest because what happened to me doesn’t happen all the time. Playing rugby opened doors my family and I had never seen. Earlier in the year I suffered a shoulder injury and was out for a few games and worked hard to get my form back. My biggest priority was getting back in shape, and being chosen for three URC Man of the Match awards meant the world to me. But I always say that when the team performs, it allows you to perform and express yourself to the best of your abilities. As a general rule, you can only win Man of the Match prizes when you win games. The fact that we got together and won those games also made a huge difference. More than anything, the turnaround in results was down to the gelling and commitment to the defensive system coach Jaque Fourie had in store for us. We continue to improve each week and I believe we haven’t hit our cap yet and there is more to come. When it comes to the finer details of the defensive system we use, we work hard on the integrity and spacing of our lines. We walk off the line but still hold our feet and stayed connected.

Sport24 asked: How long is your contract with the Lions and is overseas an option?

Vincent Tshituka: My heart is red and I don’t think it will be anything else. I’ve been with Lions for a very long time and all I’m in right now is because I had the opportunity here. There is a desire to see what else the world has to offer and to test myself in different environments and conditions at some point in the future. There is this curiosity in me that wants to explore but my heart will always be red and for now it remains so. My contract with the Lions Rugby Union runs until December. My agent has a lot to do but I always tell him that’s what he gets paid to do. Everything that is off the field, I tell him: “Listen, here is the pressure, it is on you”, and then on my side, I manage the pressure between the four white lines. My dream and aspiration is to play for the Springboks and participate in international rugby at the highest level. There is no greater honor as an athlete or sportsman than to represent your country at the highest level. That’s my immediate goal and I want to give myself the best chance before exploring (overseas options) for now.

Sport24 asked: Have you had discussions with the national coaching staff?

Vincent Tshituka: Yes, but not in terms of national alignment camps that are brewing because of my citizenship issue. (Tshituka was invited to apply in early 2021, but due to lockdown restrictions the Home Office was not accepting any new applications for permanent citizenship). It makes things a little tricky, but Jacques (Nienaber) has always made his politics an open door for me to come in with questions and he’s always ready to give me advice and tips. He shared with me what I can build on in my game and where I can grow. All management were approachable and definitely kept an eye on me. They were really good to me and I had discussions with them. The issue of citizenship as it currently stands puts us at an impasse, but I agree with that because it is one step at a time and I am fighting to get there. I have people I work with to fight for my citizenship. That’s about it for now and we’ll take it one day at a time. When this is settled, it will be an honor to be eligible to be selected. Just because you’re eligible doesn’t mean you’ll become a Springbok, but I want the opportunity to join the ranks. I was born in the DRC but have basically been in South Africa all my life.

Sport24 asked: How would you measure the competition for Bok’s backline?

Vincent Tshituka: If there’s one thing South African rugby has never lacked, it’s talent and ability in the back row. For me, that’s one of the reasons why I kept pushing myself because the level is so high. That’s the standard I hold myself to if that makes sense. I have three brothers and competitiveness is all we know. When it comes to gaming, I just want to compete with the best. In terms of quality back-rowers, South Africa has the best and the back-row duel is very competitive. It’s exactly how it should be and how I like it. In terms of playing style, I think I’m more of a Pieter-Steph du Toit type player than a Kwagga Smith mould. In my junior years, Pieter-Steph was one of the guys I looked up to because I felt his style of rugby matched mine the best. I saw what he did well and tried to replicate it with a lot of my own interpretation. I take as much good as possible from everyone – be it Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi or Kwagga – but if there was anyone who best suited my style of play, it would undoubtedly be Pieter-Steph .

Sport24 asked: What are the toughest back-rowers you’ve ever faced?

Vincent Tshituka: Duane would definitely be there because he’s tough as nails. He carries and tackles hard and brings a physical presence on the pitch that few eights can. The others would be Sikhumbuzo Notshe and Ardie Savea. As for Notshe, he was amazing in Super Rugby 2020. I always thought he was a very good player but sometimes in 2020 for me he was untouchable. Everything he did was magic. When I watched it at the time, I thought, “If I can take the form like that, that would be crazy.” Ardie is an extremely explosive ball carrier and his ability with the ball in hand is top notch. They are all world class for different reasons… I also have to mention one of the toughest players I have played with. He may be smaller than most South African back-rowers, but Kwagga Smith is one of the best loose forwards I’ve played with. He is the definition of giving 100% of himself all the time. Every opportunity he gets, he gives his all. He is strong, fast and agile. Counting him because of his size would be crazy but I can’t judge people who felt that way because before I played with him I could understand where they were coming from. However, as soon as you play with him, you see for yourself that he is world class and truly one of the best.

Sport24 asked: Why do you consider Rassie a brilliant coach and mentor?

Vincent Tshituka: What I like about Rassie is that he is a raw and honest coach. You should never doubt his word, which is his bond and the same goes for Lions coach Cash (van Rooyen). As a player, you expect nothing more from a coach than honesty, although that’s not good news. I hear that the Springboks have abolished individual meetings and that team announcements are made in front of the whole group. I like this level of transparency because everyone gets the same message. This creates alignment and unity in the team. Like Rassie, Cash has been very honest with us and the team is announced in front of everyone so it’s an open frame. Cash has created a safe space where everyone can be themselves and their open door policy allows players to ask questions if they feel decisions are unfair. As a head coach, Cash specifically carries the brunt of everything, so I’m glad we can turn things around for him. What we’re doing now isn’t something he didn’t believe in or is shocked to be fair about. It’s just that we are now producing the results he wants.

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