DURBAN – The Sharks have had a rich history of colourful props and young Khuthuzani Mchunu has the potential to add his name to the likes of burger-munching Ollie le Roux, roly poly Coenie Oosthuizen and, of course, The Beast.
Mchunu, a 21-year-old tighthead prop harvested from the rural farming community of Greytown in northern KZN, yesterday fronted the media for the first time in his fledgling career, and did so as if he was to the manor born.
Confident and erudite, he revealed that if he did not become a professional rugby player, he would have studied medicine, but as a compromise he was studying bio-medicine through Unisa.
Mchunu is one of the four youngsters who made their Super Rugby debuts against the Sunwolves last week, a moment he describes as “unreal” and something he had envisioned since he was a boy.
And quite a boisterous boy he was, too, he tells us.
“I started playing rugby when I was about 7 years old, I was one of the loud ones in class and my principal said I should go and burn my energy up on the rugby field… and from there it has just been love for the game.
“I never really knew I was good at rugby until I was about 13 years old and started making provincial sides, and then I realised I had a talent for the game and the love grew even stronger.”
Naturally, the young Mchunu had an affinity for the legendary Tendai Mtawarira, who first inspired him and is now teaching him the art of scrummaging.
“Being a young black kid, you are obviously going to mention Beast as a role model,” Mchunu said. “He has done a lot for the game, not just in terms of the way he played, but for the black community as a whole. He let us believe that we can achieve the same heights he did in his career, and to now be in camp with him is just unreal… you can just imagine.”
Mchunu said his progression from school through the age groups and onwards to the Sharks began as a schoolboy dream “to play in the black and white”.
“Also, they have always had a lot of Springboks, especially props and hookers, so I knew there would be opportunities to learn from the best.
“For a young front rower like myself, you might not play a lot of games as you wait your turn, but you are going to learn a lot of lessons here, scrummaging against Beast week in and week out in training; Coenie Oosthuizen, as well as guys like Akker van der Merwe, and you are learning from them and they are teaching you a few things.”
Respectful as he is, he is also hungry and ambitious. He knows exactly what he wants to achieve, and that includes playing for the Boks at the 2023 World Cup in France.
“For this year I want to try and get as many caps as I can for Super Rugby, win Super Rugby, and for me personally, I want to try and make the Bok squad and even go to the 2023 World Cup, that is my main goal,” he said.
If that comes to pass, Mchunu will emulate Greytown’s most famous product, Philip Nel, who captained arguably the greatest Springbok side, the 1937 vintage that swept the All Blacks aside in a series in New Zealand.
Mchunu is clearly having the time of his life at the Sharks, living the dream, and he is proud of his achievements as a youngster from small-town KZN.
“The Greytown community are extremely proud of me, almost every day I get messages on Facebook, hopefully as I start getting traction in my career and playing more Super Rugby, I can give back to Greytown and help the development of the game there.”