The Lions young gun who is firing on the fields of Europe
It’s been a meteoric rise for Vincent Tshituka from the Emirates Lions
By even his own best planning, this would’ve been the year that Vincent Tshituka had achieved his goal of playing a full season of Varsity Cup rugby. He hasn’t achieved that goal, and he’s not disappointed. Instead, the 23-year-old Emirates Lions flanker is running out on the fields of Europe playing against the best northern hemisphere rugby has to offer in the new Vodacom United Rugby Championship.
It’s been a meteoric rise for a young player who is taking the opportunity he’s been given with the Lions and quite literally running with it.
“It’s absolutely incredible for me to test myself against the best. I’ve always wanted to prove myself against the best in the game, and in this competition, I get to play at the highest level against international players. This competition gives so many young players that opportunity, and it’s just very exciting for me,” said Tshituka.
The gratitude he has for being able to play in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship is the same gratitude that underlines his entire career. Born in the Republic of Congo and moving with his family – including his three brothers – to South Africa when he was four years old, Tshituka says he never dreamt he would become a professional rugby player. He didn’t attend one of the traditional big-name rugby schools. In fact, he didn’t even start playing rugby until high school.
“I was actually a soccer player in primary school. Then I went to Northcliff High and they didn’t offer soccer. I still wanted a team sport and loved the team environment. So in Grade 8 I started playing rugby. It was just for fun really. I never expected to make a career out of it. I played all over the place. I played in the A, B and C teams. I started off at wing, moved to flank and then lock, and now I’m back at flank again.
“Then in my final year at high school I played in the Academy Week, and that’s where the idea began to form in my head that it would be quite nice to be a professional rugby player.”
But the realisation of this was still a long way off in his own mind.
“Northcliff High had never produced a professional rugby player, so it wasn’t like there was an example for me to follow. I joined the University of Johannesburg and started playing for their Young Guns. I had a four-year plan from matric until now. My plan was that while I was studying at UJ I hoped to get one or two caps at the Young Guns in my first year, then maybe become a campaigner for them in my second year, then in my third year maybe play one or two Varsity Cup matches, and then in my fourth year of graduation to play an entire Varsity Cup season.”
Clearly, the plan changed quite dramatically. And it came about when former Golden Lions coach Joey Mongalo – now the defence coach with the Vodacom Bulls – invited Tshituka for a trial with the Golden Lions Under-19 team.
“That was the moment for me where I felt this could be a reality. It felt like I had been invited to a Springbok camp. That’s how happy I was. You know, in high school you see the Craven Week and SA Schools players, and you really look up to them. Then you get to a setup like at the Golden Lions, and suddenly you see many of these same players and now they’re your teammates. That felt like an opportunity to prove something to myself. We had an amazing Under-19 side, and I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my career.
“But it also crystalised in my mind that mindset of never wasting an opportunity. When you look at the unconventional way I came into the game, the reality is that I was never entitled to become a professional rugby player. There were a lot of amazing players that didn’t make it through the system. So, I have always been very grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given, and I’m determined not to waste it.”
Tshituka says his family – including younger brother Emmanuel who is also forging a career in rugby – also helps to keep him grounded and focused on what’s important in life.
“We’re a Christian-based family and we stand for God being in control, and that life is a blessing in itself. In the good and the bad, life remains a blessing. Sometimes things were tough growing up and my parents always said things would get better. It built character. My brothers are my first best friends, and we all hold to that standard that we keep going through the tough times with a smile on our faces.
“The biggest thing for me is to be myself and be unique. I realised early on that every player has their X factor and you’ve got to find your own.”
Tshituka certainly brings a uniqueness to the game of rugby. From his journey into the sport, and even his background as a dancer before he was a rugby player.
“I did ballroom dancing in primary school, and I really enjoyed that. Then in high school, together with my brothers and friends, we started a dance group – FusionX – and did hip hop competitions at church and school. We’d practice our routines in the backyard after school. The funny thing is that on this Vodacom United Rugby Championship tour we had a dance competition amongst the team one night, and I lost. So, I’m working on a new routine in my room for the rematch.”
And on the fields of Europe, he’ll be dancing his way to the try line as well.
“This tour has been very exciting and I’m enjoying every moment. The whole focus is just rugby and I love that. The style of play in the northern hemisphere has been an eye opener for me. It’s very technical and tactical. Every move and opportunity counts. You don’t get the luxury of too many opportunities, and you pay for every mistake you make. So the margin for error is a lot smaller. But that also creates new opportunities to try new things.”
As for his future plans, Tshituka says life has shown him not to make plans too far ahead.
“My greatest blessing is that I’m not too focused about the future. My entire life has been lived in the now. I’ve planned one step in front of me, often not seeing the whole staircase. I’m always about enjoying the time now.”
After all, the last time he did make a four-year plan, it turned out a whole lot more different than he ever expected.
Follow all the Vodacom #URC action on @VodacomRugga.