Cell C Sharks prop Khutha Mchunu took the advice from his primary school principal to use his excess energy wisely by playing rugby, and now, several years later, he is a member of the Junior Springbok training squad.
The 20-year old Mchunu, who grew up in Greytown, 72km north of Pietermaritzburg, started playing rugby at seven to channel his “busyness” into something more constructive – advice given to him by a school principal – and he now has a shot at representing South Africa at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Georgia.
The talented player admits that there is hard work ahead for him to stake a claim for a place in Junior Springbok coach Chean Roux’s final 28-man squad for the showpiece as the training squad wrapped up their first training camp on Friday. However, he says being in the training group is already the highlight of career so far.
“It is an amazing opportunity to be here. It is something I have dreamed about achieving since I was a child, so being in the training squad is the pinnacle of my career so far,” Mchunu said with a smile.
“I grew up in a small town called Greytown and attended small schools – Greytown Primary and then Greytown High – where very few people played rugby before getting a scholarship at Glenwood, so I never thought I would be here.”
Mchunu is still amused by the way he took up rugby, but he says watching the Springboks lift the Webb Ellis Cup in France in 2007 sparked his love for rugby.“It is quite funny how I started playing rugby,” he said.
“I was rather naughty when I was younger and my school principal suggested that I work it out by playing rugby, and that triggered by liking of the sport.
“However, I began to love rugby when the Springboks won the 2007 World Cup. I remember watching the final in the dining room with my mother and brother and we were all dressed in Springbok kit. That has always been a special memory for me.”
Despite watching the World Cup final with Mchunu and his brother, the player says his mother has yet to watch one of his matches.
“My family is not big on rugby – in fact, my mom has never watched me play,” he said.
“My brother, however, is very supportive, and tries to attend my matches when possible. He was so excited when I was named in the Junior Springbok training squad, it was almost as though he was selected.”
Looking back on the first Junior Springbok training camp, Mchunu said the intensity of the training sessions and the professionalism of the set-up was of the highest standard.
“The last two weeks have been very hard. We ran and trained a lot, and although it took a while to adapt to it, I really enjoyed it,” he said.
“I think everyone here realises now what it takes to become a Springbok. The atmosphere in the camp was great and the coaches have been very supportive, which made working so hard much easier.”
Mchunu also spoke highly of the coaching staff: “Obviously you want to learn from the best and people who have been at the highest level, so to have coaches like Chean Roux, Mzwandile Stick, and Louis Koen, is fantastic. They have all coached at Springbok level and they know what it takes to get there, so as players we need to listen and learn as much as we can.”
The players will have a few days off at home before gathering for their second camp in Bloemfontein on Sunday, 26 March, where they will play warm-up matches against the Down Touch Griffons, Tafel Lager Griquas and Toyota Free State Cheetahs. They will play further warm-up matches against the Varsity Cup Dream Team and DHL Western Province at their third training camp.
The final 28-man squad will assemble for a holding camp on 21 May and are set to depart for Georgia on 25 May. The SA Under-20s will face France, Georgia and Argentina in the pool stages of the World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Tbilisi, Georgia, on 31 May, 4 June and 8 June respectively.