As soon as word got out that Mzwandile Stick would be returning home after sustaining an injury in Wellington, I decided to give Lionel Mapoe a call to get his reaction to his imminent call-up. Stellenbosch is six hours behind Hong Kong so I thought I’d give him a fair warning via FaceBook. However, I called an hour after the agreed time for the interview and found a groggy voice on the other end of my Skype call. The youngster must’ve enjoyed quite a big Sunday lunch because he was napping at 4pm nogal!
Thankfully he accepted my thousand apologies (that’s how we say sorrie this side of the noodle-gordyn) and I jumped straight into the usual line of questioning.
Lionel Granton Mapoe is actually a “Baaienaar” (someone from the coastal city of Port Elizabeth for those of you from outside SA) having spent his first 10 years in nearby Humansdorp. A keen track athlete at the time who also dabbled in cross-country running, Lionel moved to Bloemfontein to live with his grandmother and attend primary school.
Reading his resume’ on the SARU website, one can’t help but think that his call-up to national Sevens duty was just a matter of course as he has represented Free State at all levels of the game, starting with the Under16 Grant Khomo Week in 2004. Under 18 Academy and Craven Weeks followed in 2005-2006 with Under19, Free State Sevens and Vodacom Cup duty in 2007. Lionel must’ve been born WITH a rugby ball in his hand! Last year was a special one for “Nakkels” because he was selected for the Springbok Under 20-side to represent South Africa at the IRB World Junior Championships in Wales, his first overseas tour. This was also the first time that I heard of Lionel Mapoe as I helped Wilton Pietersen run a 877-strong FaceBook Support Group for the Under20 Springboks in Wales (read here if you’re a FaceBooker)
Leaving on a jetplane: Lionel on the U20 Wales Tour 2008
Internationally, the speedster counts Sterling Mortlock and Stormers captain Juan De Villiers among his role-models, having played in the center-position before switching to the wing. ”Why the nickname Nakkels?” I enquired. “That’s all (SA U20 teammate) Wilton Pietersen’s doing” he answered, adding that it actually started out as (Stormers’ paceman Sereli) Naqelevuki and was shortened to the current Nakkels.
Teammates… SA U20 tour to Wales (2008)
Moving the conversation to his call-up, Lionel was very diplomatic saying that, while he feels for Mzwandile, he is naturally very excited. “It’s a dream come true!” I managed to get some excitement on the other side of my headphones.
When one sees the players interact with each other, there is obviously a strong sense of camaraderie in the side. Do you think you will fit in?
“Definitely” comes the reply. “We’ve all been part of the Sevens training squad from the start and we are all friends.“
Tell me how things unfolded for you this weekend.
“Well, first (Team Manager) Sebastian Prim called me from New Zealand and then later Coach Paul phoned me with the news. I am still at the Sevens base in Stellenbosch because I was placed on stand-by when the Boys left for Wellington. Someone will drive me to the (Cape Town International) airport but I will travel to San Diego via Los Angeles alone. I think Sebastian will probably meet me in Los Angeles.”
I sensed that the youngster needed to get some more shut-eye (actually it was more the muffled yawns on the other side!) so I concluded with:
Do you see yourself in Dubai for the Sevens RWC next month?
The diplomat was back:
” I am just so proud to have been given the opportunity to don the Springbok jersey and I will give my best in San Diego. Our team’s motto is to take one game at a time and that’s how I also approach it. There’s a few more games before Dubai so we’ll see.”
Lionel Mapoe will play in his maiden IRB Sevens World Series Tournament in San Diego this weekend.