Aphiwe Dyantyi is one of the future South African rugby legends. That’s according to the rugby jury that crowned him the “2018 Breakthrough Player of the Year” this weekend at the World Rugby Awards in Monaco.
Dyantyi scored six tries in his first eight Tests for the Boks – including two in the famous win against the All Blacks in Wellington – and finished his debut season with 13 caps.
“I’m still shaking from disbelief, but above everything I feel honoured to be a nominee and to be a part of this… I’ve always watched people get these accolades, and I never really thought or imagined I’d be the one sitting here right now. For any youngster, sports as a platform allows them to express themselves. For me that’s a great platform, it puts a smile on my face. When I’m on the field it’s playtime, fun time,” said Dyantyi, after receiving his award at the glamourous ceremony on Sunday night, 25 November 2018.
He played for the University of Johannesburg (UJ) during his studies at UJ. The Lions winger has not wasted time embracing the challenge at a national and international level. He was named by new Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus in an enlarged Bok squad of 43, which played the 2018 June internationals against United States and England.
Born in East London, the 23-year-old, who matriculated at Dale College in King William’s Town in 2011, said it was “a massive opportunity” and that he was fully focused on making the most of it. When he joined UJ as a first-year student in 2012, the furthest thing from the young student’s mind was a full-time rugby career after his game seemed to have stalled at Dale.
“I played in all the age-group A teams at Dale and also U13 Craven Week,” he said. “But when I got to the open division, I was a year younger than the rest – for example, I was 15 in Grade 10 and 16 in Grade 11. It was hard for me to crack it and it didn’t help that I was small at the time.
He added, “But the worst thing for me is that I was not backed by anyone and given the opportunity to show what I could do. After being used to playing for the A teams, I never got any further and it was something I had to take and to learn from.”
However, when Dyantyi enrolled at UJ in 2012, he had switched his focus to his studies and only became involved in rugby again when his residence mates persuaded him to help out in the varsity’s koshuis league. “I did play a few times, but it was purely for fun,” recalled Dyantyi.
“But the next thing, UJ asked me if I didn’t want to focus more on the game and to try out for the U19s. The management at UJ was very good, but it still took me a while to warm to the idea. Eventually I was offered a sports bursary and as I was looking at the time for an academic bursary I thought this was a win-win situation. So I decided it could do no harm and gave it a go.”
The rest, as they say, is history and Dyantyi has steadily moved through the ranks, graduating from the Varsity Cup to become a key player for the Lions Super Rugby franchise this year (2018) and ultimately being crowned the Breakthrough Player of the Year this past weekend.