Springbok fever has gripped the nation but nowhere is it more apparent than at the University of Fort Hare after two of its young stars were selected for the U20 national side.
Lilitha Vakalisa, 19, and Inga Qogi, 20, will make their debut in the iconic green-and-gold tunic against Zimbabwe in East London this afternoon (Tuesday).
In a remarkable twist of fate, both only started playing the game in the past two seasons.
They credit the inspired mentorship of coach Ntyatyambo Mkhafu for their quick growth in stature, which ultimately forced the hand of the selectors.
The women were understandably overjoyed when those calls came.
“I was so happy . . . it will be my first time playing for South Africa,” said Human Movement Sciences student Qogi.
Although she usually controls the game from scrum or flyhalf for UFH, the selection committee have penned her in at fullback for today’s match.
The Alice native, who studies at the campus in town, often watched matches on TV but played nothing more than social rugby at school.
When she first entered the university’s gates, she leapt at the chance to play for Fort Hare. Her star rose quickly and she soon found herself among the ranks of the Border team.
She paid tribute to Mkhafu for making her the player she was today.
“Coach Ntyatyambo is very proud of me. I do whatever he tells me,” she admitted. “He has played a big role in everything.”
She fully expected to be nervous at kick-off but was confident that the Baby Boks would dominate the encounter against their northern neighbours at the Baysville stadium.
Education student Vakalisa will debut at outside centre, a position she has made her own at the tertiary institution. The Mthatha speedster was “so happy and proud” when she got the nod.
Vakalisa, who loved the one for all and all for one nature of rugby, said it was the hard work and patience of Mkhafu that had shaped her into a formidable backline player.
The latter boasts an incredible hit-rate when it comes to producing players for junior and senior national teams. Since becoming head coach in 2015, no fewer than 14 of his charges have been plucked from his grasp by various selection panels.
The mentor, who saw Vakalisa as “a talent with plenty of pace” and Qogi as an “aggressive player who kicks well”, praised them for their discipline on and off the field.
He had no doubt that they would shine this afternoon.