UP rugby captain, Sango Xamlashe, began with the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, was offered a contract with the Blue Bulls in Pretoria and has moved to UP. Since then, he’s become captain of the UP rugby team and led his teammates to a championship win in the 2021 Varsity Cup. After roasting us for never being to the High-Performance Center, Xamlashe and PDBY met for a post-win catch up before he’s back to training for the Curry Cup and Carlton Cup.
How has your experience differed from playing with the Blue Bulls to playing at UP?
Playing at [UP] you interact more with your supporters and fan base, which is pretty cool because you have a real feel of the inside, which is us, and the outside which are the supporters and how they see everything. At the Bulls in u/21 you didn’t really have many supporters or spectators, and we didn’t have much of a chance to interact with them. [UP]supporters you go to class with, you see on a daily basis. They always have something to say […], so being able to interact and know how they feel and how much it means to them is really cool and I like that. It also gives us a better reason to play.
So, for all the interested fans out there, are you single?
(laughs) Yes, I’m single.
Have you been getting a lot of female attention recently?
According to Xamlashe’s roommate and teammate, “the Varsity Cup has definitely boosted his profile with the ladies”.
What is your pre-game ritual?
I have a pre-practice ritual as well. I must be listening to music on arrival. I have a game day playlist. It’s a mix of a lot of things, most of it is hip-hop. And then for game day I do the same thing. I listen to music most of the day, especially the closer it becomes to the game. I have got my ear plugs in. Another ritual is left boot before right [it’s a tradition]. […] It’s like if you have underwear that you had a really good game in, sometimes people want to wear [them] all the time.
Interviewer: So, is that what you did?
Xamlashe: No, no I don’t wear underwear during a game.
How is it different being the captain as opposed to a normal player?
It’s difficult. It’s a different type of pressure. It’s not the same pressure that everyone else would experience. Everybody else’s pressure that they would naturally experience plus the pressure of captaincy. You have to make all the right decisions all the time. If you make the wrong decision, the whole team suffers.
Let’s talk about your semi-final victory. Was it extra sweet considering you kicked Maties out of the final?
I was playing against my younger brother. My brother had a game up on me. He beat me in the group stages. I wasn’t sour, I was more happy that he had something to take home, but in my mind I was like don’t worry, let them have it. […] I wasn’t upset but I was disappointed that we lost to Maties because we played really badly. So it would have been better if we played really well and they still beat us. But that didn’t happen. So when we beat them in the semi-final I was like yeah, it was coming. […] So it’s one one. But I have a trophy now, so I get a bonus point.
Do you think not playing against UCT in the group stages worked in your favour?
Had we played them in the group stages I think it still would have worked in our favour because then it would have shed some light because […] there was not much we could have said about them in terms of preparation going into the game. […] We were kind of, not blindsided, but we just had to go off of what we saw when they played other teams. […] We didn’t know how they would react to what we would do. Or where they are vulnerable in response to what we’re doing. We had to kind of like go with the whole thing of, well, let’s hope that the things they have been replicating in other games is actually the true image.
[…] So we did our homework, watched their videos like traditionally and then game day they gave us the picture that we wanted. I think that’s where it went well for us, we weren’t working with something that was completely foreign. It’s difficult playing against a team when you haven’t done your homework, because you don’t know what to do.
Why do you think UCT struggled in the final?
I think part of the reason was that they didn’t have squad depth. They didn’t have any rotation policy. Barely. Like they played the same players all the time, which was difficult because this year wasn’t the same. We were playing three games in one week. It can’t be the same team, every week […] the wheels fall off. And we managed our players. […] We were fortunate to have a huge squad, with really good players, like really good. […] And the sad part is. There were some guys who never played that could easily [play any] Varsity cup side. It’s tough.
Do you think an essential part of a winning team is that you change it up?
I think an essential part of a winning team is preparation. We started preparing for Varsity Cup in October. We were training from October to the 15th of December. We [went] home for two weeks and then we [came] back but then back then we were still anticipating that Varsity Cup would start in February. […] Some teams only started training in 2021. So in terms of preparation we were way ahead. Way ahead.
It’s interesting, we all watch rugby on TV but we have no idea the amount of preparation that goes into it.
If the field you’re looking at right now could talk. Joh. You’d see tears. We had this thing called F*** you Friday. It’s like hell in a cell. There’s no rugby ball. It’s not even […] necessarily like strength training […] it’s more mental. I wouldn’t say it improves anything besides your mind, [but] it does make us fitter. We would do that for an hour [but] still no rugby balls though. Then we’d go home. You must know its hell on a rugby field […] when sh** hits the fan. When you arrive, there’s no rugby balls and there’s just tackle bags and cones. […] What was quite interesting was that no one gave up or threw in the towel halfway through the sessions. […] Maybe that’s why some would say we won the Varsity Cup. You never know. Coach Carter would say that’s where we won the Varsity Cup. […] It’s nice playing for a team you know has a good chance of winning. It would be difficult to play on a team when the chances of winning are really low. […] At [UP] you have a trophy cabinet. You know there’s a good chance that you’re going to win. So whatever we’re doing there’s a real cause and real reward. It will be even easier next year to convince people how to win, because we did it last year.
When do you end your year/season?
I don’t think there will be an end until […] October. I need to somehow get a break because my body is broken. I haven’t had a break, I [only] had five days off. So for me it would be nice to have a break, but I also understand that things aren’t the same, things aren’t normal. […] I [also] don’t want to miss out on opportunities because I need a break. If I take a break, then I won’t get a breakthrough.
Are you going to play next year?
I’ll cross that bridge when it comes [but] I’d love to play and if I get a chance I’ll play.
Is rugby something you want to make a career out of, what’s the dream?
Yes. Without a doubt. In the near future, I don’t see myself working somewhere. The dream is to play in a World Cup. That’s the dream.
Winning is nice. Although winning is not everything, it’s nice that the thing you’re working towards is possible. I can’t imagine what type of person I would be if we didn’t win then and we didn’t win now. It could be the reason you start to doubt whether playing is a good idea or [if you should go] forward professionally. […] In rugby, your resume says a lot.
So, does champagne out of a trophy taste significantly better than out of a glass?
Definitely. I feel like I could almost taste it coming out of France. I feel like I could taste the origins of it [and] it being harvested in the south of France. When it comes out of a glass, I can’t taste much […] it’s like I can taste it coming out of the distribution center. My rugby jersey [was covered in it]. I didn’t wash it. Still haven’t washed it. I’m not going to wash it. It’s drenched in champagne. It smells like champagne and sweat. And I wore it the whole day. I slept in it as well.
How was the celebration after?
To be honest it wasn’t as huge as I thought it was going to be. We celebrated for two days but after that it wasn’t […] hectic anymore. We didn’t have students to celebrate with us. […] I’m actually glad it didn’t happen because we would have caused havoc. I would have been at the strip in my jersey. I’d leave my medal at home though. It would have been different to go out and celebrate at the strip. It would have been euphoric. It would have been next level.
This means you guys will have to win next year so we can celebrate then.
Ja, we’ll have to win next year now.
Image: Catherine Kotze