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Springbok Makazole Mapimpi in a tussle with Los Pumas' Emiliano Boffelli in Buenos Aires last Saturday. Picture: Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images
Springbok Makazole Mapimpi in a tussle with Los Pumas' Emiliano Boffelli in Buenos Aires last Saturday. Picture: Jose Gasparini/Gallo Images

Makazole Mapimpi, one of the big winners at the unveiling of the Springbok Rugby World Cup (RWC) squad earlier this week, could not mask his sense of loss in the aftermath of the announcement.

Mapimpi agonised over the omission of his friend, teammate and comrade Lukhanyo Am who was ruled out after he suffered a knee injury against Argentina last weekend. An eleventh-hour loss is often more keenly felt.

Mapimpi does not just wear his shirt tight, but his heart on his sleeve.

“It is tough. It is a guy, I sleep next to him,” he said about his roommate. “He had the injury and the situation is very emotional. I share everything with him. We talk about everything. We are brothers. When he got injured he was very emotional.

“He has been doing well the last couple of seasons and was nominated as World Rugby player of the year. Now all of a sudden, last minute, he is injured. I hope he is going to get better soon and can be part of this squad,” said the Bok wing.

Mapimpi's glum mood was polar opposite to what he experienced barely an hour earlier. When his name was called out as a member of the squad to travel to France the hundreds in attendance didn’t just deliver the loudest cheer, there was dancing in the aisles and quite possibly down adjacent Bram Fischer Drive.

Waiting to cap Mapimpi, SA Rugby president Mark Alexander had to pause as the cacophony rose. This was an outpouring of love from which the RWC winner was not ready to run.

“I was surprised that when people saw me they were very happy,” Mapimpi said as he broke into a smile. “It is kind of nice. I have family and lots of people praying for me. I'm blessed, I need to keep going but I also need to show people the love that they are showing me.”

As one of the stars of the 2019 campaign when he became the first Springbok to score a try in a final, Mapimpi will travel to France with pressure very much a close companion.

“Jeez, man, it is something I have been going through since Border and the [Southern] Kings, all of Super Rugby, then at the Springboks.

“I don’t put too much on myself. It is not about me but about the team. I put the team first, understand the game plan and am ready to deliver it.”

Mapimpi admits there is nothing he can do about the criticism that has almost always tracked his career. He is, however, aware of those who back him and uses that as motivation to improve.

“I know nothing about people. I don’t hate people but it is a good thing for me just to express myself.

“When I open my phone in the morning before training I see people talking about me, and there is nothing wrong, though they have a lot to say about another person but that’s all over the world.

“I can’t stop that, people can say what they want to say. I turn that negativity into energy. It is very good for me that I can turn that negativity into a positive mindset.

“All I can do is to focus and listen to what the coaches are saying. I try to block the noise from the outside, but it is very tough. I have to compete to stay number one so that people don't have anything to say.”

Now that he has retained his place in the RWC squad Mapimpi is guarding against complacency.

“You can’t get comfortable, because you don’t know where you are.”

Mapimpi, who turned 33 last month, was in a race against time and younger contenders to convince the selectors he was worthy of another shot at the RWC. Kurt-Lee Arendse and Canan Moodie weren’t just snapping at his heels, in some areas they went past him.

“Before the World Cup in 2019 someone asked me how I keep myself busy. I watch rugby. I watch the Varsity Cup so that I can see what the young guys are doing that I’m not doing.

“Those young guys are always pushing to get the next jersey. There’s nothing wrong, we have to compete at the same time, we are not fighting. That helps to make the team better.

“I’m very proud of the guys that have come up. Grant [Williams], Canan [Moodie], Jaden [Hendrikse], Manie [Libbok]. They are getting us to do better because they come with good energy and a fresh mindset at the same time. It is good for the team.”


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