Vincent Tshituka improves his reputation game by game at the Lions

As the United Rugby Championship progresses, there is one player who seems increasingly ready to view the season as a career-defining campaign. Vincent Tshituka, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but educated in South Africa, has taken his game to new heights…and shows no signs of slowing down.

In recent weeks the loose striker has won three of the last four Player of the Game awards for the Lions, with captain Burger Odendaal recently tweeting that it was getting ‘boring’ to keep handing the accolade to his team-mate after the game. match.

In response to the playful comment, Tshituka flashed his beaming smile before expressing how much he’s enjoying his rugby right now. After all, the 23-year-old has come a remarkable path to achieve such success, especially since he never expected to have a career in the game.

From hip-hop to back-row

According to the story, Tshituka was a talented goalkeeper during his elementary school days and maybe one day dreamed of playing for the Bafana Bafana as he also participated in ballroom dancing. Later, he was part of a hip-hop dance group called ‘Fusion X’, but it was during his high school years at Northcliff in Johannesburg that he found a new way to express himself. And that was on the rugby pitch.

Tall, strong and naturally athletic, Tshituka fell in love with a sport he barely thought about before arriving at Northcliff.

“I remember playing at U16 level and I held the ball like a loaf of bread,” he once said. “I would run sideways across the field with it. I did a lot of that in one game in particular. My coach completely lost his mind after the game. He said ‘listen‚ I can’t do this anymore. I can’t handle it. Run straight. If you get tackled‚ so what’.

“I got emotional because I was just trying to do my best for the team, but since then I’ve never run sideways.”

Tshituka continued to play for the University of Johannesburg before working his way through the Lions’ junior ranks, but in the past season he has established himself unequivocally as the team’s first-choice blind flank. in the CRU.

As well as having surprising pace for such a big man, Tshituka is also a master offloader, a threat on defense and is renowned for his tireless ability to move around the park.

“His work rate without the ball and with the ball, whether in defense or attack, is special,” commented Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen after the latest win against Edinburgh.

“He’s definitely one of the guys who stops the momentum and gives you momentum in the team. With the way he plays and his character, it’s hard not to see him, and it’s hard not to. not talk about him. I think in Saru’s conference room, his name will definitely be written somewhere on a piece of paper.

The only significant snag is that the youngster is still working on getting his South African passport in order to be declared eligible to play for the Springboks. It’s a difficult situation that was particularly faced by Zimbabwe-born Beast Mtawarira, who eventually needed the help of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu to fast-track his citizenship application.

Earlier this year, reports suggested the Springbok leadership encouraged Tshituka to apply for a South African passport in early 2021, but lockdown restrictions initially shut down new applications for permanent citizenship, while it is now believed that ‘there is a considerable backlog to work. by.

If the process can be successfully passed through Home Affairs, there is no doubt his name would be part of the national conversation ahead of the Boks’ jam-packed 2022 Test season.

Pieter-Steph du Toit undoubtedly remains the starting blind flank for the Boks, but has played limited rugby since sustaining a serious injury against the British and Irish Lions last year. That injury led to a backline reshuffle, with Franco Mostert and Kwagga Smith down seventh, but neither option seemed like a natural or long-term solution.

Tshituka may have to bide his time in his quest for higher honours, but there is no doubt that SA Rugby will have a growing interest in seeing the flank get their South African passport. Still, whatever the case, nothing seems likely to erase the smile of the affable Lions superstar at the moment.

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Charles P. Patton