Lionel Mapoe. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/SYDNEY SESHIBEDI
Lionel Mapoe. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/SYDNEY SESHIBEDI

Lionel Mapoe admits his Super Rugby journey feels like a rollercoaster ride. While it is building to a crescendo, he first has to strap in for the Sharks in his 99th Super Rugby match at Ellis Park on Friday night.

The Lions’ part workhorse‚ part show pony‚ is laid back about the career milestone, and claims he has not given it much thought.

“To be honest I haven’t thought about it being my 99th game. It could have been 100. It has been a rollercoaster but it has been a good rollercoaster‚” Mapoe said.

“There were injuries too but that happens in the game and you get through it. I don’t think about it too much. I’m just worried about playing good rugby.”

His can’t-be-bothered disposition can perhaps be attributed to the highs and lows he has had to process in equal measure.

The 30-year-old‚ who also had stints with the Bulls and the Cheetahs‚ has learned to roll with the punches. He generally plays with a smile on his face and even has an outrageous hand-on-the-head celebration before he touches down for a try.

His longevity at Super Rugby level is partly due to the fact that he is able to cover different positions‚ mostly in jerseys numbered between 11 and 14.

For the Sharks’ clash he is on the move again. He mostly plays at outside centre but he shifts to the inside‚ allowing Aphiwe Dyantyi to slot into the No13 jersey.

Mapoe doesn’t seem bothered by a move closer to the heavier traffic.

“I just love to play rugby. Just give me the ball and I’ll run. It’s going to be interesting and exciting‚” he said.

“Aphiwe came on at 13 against the Sunwolves. He’s a natural footballer. I love playing with natural footballers. I think we only have one specialist in our backline.”

He is equally unfazed about striking a new midfield partnership against the well-established and hard-running Andre Esterhuizen and Lukhanyo Am.

“I see it more of an opportunity‚ than a risk‚” said Mapoe shrugging his shoulders. “We love opportunities. It will be a challenge. We love challenges. We have a lot of natural footballers in our backline so it is easy for us to adapt.

“We had a good week so far training wise. I’m really confident going into this weekend.”

Mapoe‚ who made a late start to the season‚ hit the deck running once he got into action. He came off the bench and helped the Lions dig themselves out of a gigantic hole against the Rebels.

The try he scored after chasing down a kick ahead of the lackadaisical Quade Cooper exemplified the team’s never-say-die spirit that day.

He has continued to impress and potentially play himself into wider recognition. Mapoe‚ who made his Test debut in a losing cause against the All Blacks in 2015‚ last played for the Springboks in a defeat to Argentina in Mendoza in 2018.

All he is concerned about‚ however‚ is assisting the Lions’ cause.

“This is an important year for us‚” he said. “We’ve had a good couple of years and we want to build on that. It is about serving the team and not myself. I have to better myself to serve the team and that is what I’m focusing on.”