Sharks wing Odwa Ndungane is a rare player who has turned out in more than a century of Super Rugby and Currie Cup matches and equally unusually‚ will retire from first-class rugby on his terms in October.
The former Bok wing‚ with brother Akona‚ is also one half of the only set of twins to play for the Springboks.
Odwa announced earlier this week that the current Currie Cup would be his last campaign in the Sharks’ black-and-white jersey after a 12-year association with the union.
He is the union’s most-capped Super Rugby player with 135 appearances‚ four more than hooker Bismarck du Plessis amassed‚ while he also has 104 Currie Cup caps to date. So far, he has played 321 first-class matches at all levels.
Saturday’s Currie Cup match between the Sharks and Western Province at Kings Park will also serve as a tribute-benefit game for the veteran wing. In professional rugby‚ seldom has a player displayed as much loyalty to a single union as Odwa.
"For me‚ the biggest thing is sharing a similar record [100 caps in Super Rugby and Currie Cup] with my twin brother [Akona]‚" Ndungane said.
"It’s something we will both cherish and share memories on for years to come. It’s a special achievement to share this record with only a handful of other players who were also capped this many times.
"I’ve had a lot of support from family‚ from teammates and coaches and being blessed to play at the highest level for so many years."
Ndungane‚ 36‚ made his first-class debut for the Border Bulldogs in 2000 and went on to play 49 matches for them before joining Akona at the Bulls.
It was a frustrating season at Loftus in 2004‚ in which he made just two appearances for the Pretoria side. It was then that the Sharks came calling.
"I moved to Durban from the Bulls because there had been a relationship in the Super 12 days between the Sharks and the teams in the Eastern Cape where I had grown up.
"Having watched the Sharks as a boy‚ I was naturally a fan. I can still recall when I was at the Bulls during the Currie Cup [in 2004] and I received a call from [then Sharks coach] Kevin Putt‚ asking me if I wanted to come to Durban. It was a decision I didn’t have to think twice about making and I jumped at the opportunity," Ndungane said.
And what a decision it was for both parties. He epitomised what it means to be a professional — training hard‚ staying in shape‚ remaining motivated‚ encouraging youngsters and playing consistently well in an era when too many players believe that being professional is only about being paid.
"I don’t think there is any secret. Perhaps the most important is the fact that I’ve never lost my love of rugby‚" he said.
"What has made it so enjoyable is the people around me. I could so easily have lost my passion and interest‚ but the teammates‚ coaches‚ management at the stadium‚ the fans‚ everyone has made it all so enjoyable. A lot of hard work has gone in to ensure I stayed on top of my game. I have been blessed to have played for so long and to not have any serious injuries."
Ndungane also made nine Test appearances for the Boks, while Akona made 11. They never played together in a Test.
"I would have loved to play more Tests‚ but nonetheless I’m still grateful for the opportunities I did get."