Livewire Madibaz flank grabs second rugby 'life' with both hands

20 March 2024
Livewire Madibaz flank grabs second rugby 'life' with both hands

Madibaz flank Mzwakhe Hlupheko was named the Player that Rocks in their FNB Varsity Shield victory over WSU in Gqeberha last week.

Flanker Mzwakhe Hlupheko’s Player that Rocks performance against Walter Sisulu University last week was the cherry on top of his second “life” in rugby.


The 23-year-old was constantly in the thick of things as the Mandela University outfit registered a hard-fought 29-18 victory in their FNB Varsity Shield clash in Gqeberha.


The home side’s run of four straight wins has seen them move into second on the log with 19 points. This leaves them one behind UP-Tuks, who ended Varsity College’s unbeaten run last Friday.


Hlupheko, an honours student in labour relations and human resources at the Nelson Mandela Bay institution, turned out for the Wits Young Guns in 2019 and 2020 while an undergraduate before quitting the sport.


“I was looking for a fresh start to my rugby after Covid,” he explained. “It was then that I got in touch with Madibaz head coach David Manuel and he gave me my second shot at varsity rugby.”


The burly loose forward moved to the Friendly City last year and played his first Varsity Shield match against TUT, the same team they will face on Friday.


He revels in the spirit that surrounds the squad, having bought into Manuel and his management team’s plans for the future.


“The camaraderie and team environment are great and the players are feeding off that. Most importantly, all of us are working together towards achieving the goals.”


Hlupheko acknowledged that he might not be the quickest or most talented on the field but took immense pride from his work ethic – and the judging panel agreed as they voted him the most outstanding player in last week's Eastern Cape derby.


“I truly believe that no one can outwork me. My work-rate is definitely one of my strengths.”


He also has a reputation for being able to read the action out on the pitch better than most.


“My top priority is knowing my role within the structure that we play. Then, during the game, it’s all about executing to the best of my ability.”


Being recognised for his livewire efforts has further energised him.


“It was a great feeling, especially seeing how excited my teammates were for me. It is definitely a moment I will cherish.


“We all know that defence is a team effort but I feel like I was rewarded for my efforts on defence and also for turnovers made in the ruck.”


While playing “rammetjie” rugby in Middelburg in Mpumalanga, Hlupheko found that one of the fringe benefits of the sport was time off from school.


“What made me even more motivated was getting to leave class early on Wednesdays because we had a game to play.”


He went on to represent the Pumas in the Academy week before being drafted into the Lions U19 squad in 2019.


After his “rebirth”, he has found the Varsity Shield increasingly tough.


“It has become much more structured and it is difficult to beat anyone,” he explained.


“Teams have to grind it out every week to make sure they win on Friday and it’s often just a matter of which side puts in a better performance on the day.”


The Madibaz’s upcoming away match against TUT will be a real test of their character.


“They will be hurting after a tough loss away from home against UKZN and we expect them to come at us with all they have. They have a big pack and will want to use them, so it is going to be very physical up front.”


The match starts at 7pm.

Author: Coetzee Gouws, Full Stop Communication