JOHANNESBURG – One of the Lions’ new stars, flank Vincent Tshituka, 20, is ready to be his team’s new tackling machine.
Tshituka made his first Super Rugby start against the Jaguares last Saturday and enjoyed a memorable debut which included making eight tackles. Only eighthman Kwagga Smith made more – 10.
In the absence of former lock and the Lions’ most prolific tackler, Franco Mostert, who has moved abroad, and the injured Warren Whiteley, Tshituka could be the man to step up in defence. After all, he loves nothing more than bringing down opponents.
“I want my trademark to be my ability to defend,” said the former Northcliff High pupil yesterday. “I take pride in tackling, defending; I hate missing tackles. But I also want to tick all the other boxes, to be an all-rounder on the field.”
Tshituka, who only took up rugby when he started high school, initially played on the wing.
“I only started playing in Grade 8 and then it was on the wing. I wasn’t the greatest wing; I think I only scored one try in that first season. I once played for the A, B and C teams on one day, and generally I’d be dropped after a bad game for the B team and then promoted from the C team after a good game.
“In Grade 9 I moved to flank and then in my senior rugby years I played number four lock. Only when I got to the Lions, in the Under-19s and 21s, did I move to flank full-time. But I’m comfortable in the second row.”
It’s no surprise then that while he was learning about rugby at school, Tshituka preferred to watch videos of the backs than the forwards.
“I honestly didn’t look up to any forwards when I started out in rugby; I preferred to focus on the likes of (former Blues and All Blacks wing) Rene Ranger and a guy like (England back) Manu Tuilagi.
“But I’ve actually never really looked up to anyone; I feel I’m different to everyone else and prefer to focus on my own game. I enjoy everyone’s uniqueness and there’s no-one specifically I want to be like. I like being me.”
Tshituka first came to prominence last year when he featured for the Lions in the Currie Cup, and he added yesterday he couldn’t quite believe he was now playing Super Rugby. He got his chance in the absence of the injured Whiteley and Cyle Brink and due to the departure of the likes of Jaco Kriel and Mostert.
“What a blessing to be part of this Super Rugby squad, and to start a game last week,” he said. “I never thought it would happen so quickly. Of course, there were nerves before the game last week, but I also knew I was in a safe environment where I knew all the guys, who I’d played with before. I knew I could just go out there and be myself.”
After last week’s strong showing against the Jaguares, Tshituka is almost certain to be in the mix again on Saturday when the Rebels visit Ellis Park. Kick-off (3.05pm).