The significance of second chances has been top of mind for many in the rugby world since the official announcement from the Sharks on 13 June that Aphiwe Dyanti has signed for the club. Of course, the potential of this signing had long been speculated about, since he’s been based in Durban for some time now, but that certainly didn’t dampen the almost unilateral excitement that greeted the announcement.
It would be hard to forget Aphiwe’s dizzying climb to stellar heights – helping the Lions to the top of the SA conference in his debut Super Rugby season in 2018, contributing to the Boks’ series victory against England that same year, and of course, scoring two fabulous tries in the Springboks’ first win in New Zealand in nine years, not to mention winning World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year that year. Unfortunately, his fall from grace was equally dizzying, after he tested positive for three banned substances in July 2019, and a subsequent B sample tested positive too, resulting in a four-year ban. He maintained his innocence throughout, stating that he must have inadvertently ingested the substances by drinking from someone else’s water bottle at the gym.
Whatever happened, I don’t believe he is a habitual cheat. For starters, there’s no way he could have been doping all the way through that incredible debut season and not been caught, it just wouldn’t happen given the stringent testing regime. So, the people who now question all his prior successes on the field can probably put those concerns to bed. Either way, he made a mistake, and he has paid for it dearly. Four years is an unbelievably long time in a rugby player’s career. He will have essentially missed two World Cups, because as much as many of his fans would love to see him on the plane to France this year, I cannot see a realistic way for that to happen. He may have just signed for the Sharks, but he is only allowed to start playing again from 12 August. That’s less than a month before our first RWC game, with only two Springbok warm-up games between his clearance and the start of the tournament. Rassie may have already said that he hopes to see Aphiwe in the green and gold again, but I just don’t see it happening quite in time for him to be a contender for the RWC. Which means he’s likely only to see a World Cup in 2027, by which time he will be 33 years old. Still very doable, but getting on for a winger. The point is, I believe he has been more than sufficiently punished.
There were a few people, fortunately in the minority, who reacted to the Sharks’ announcement by saying they don’t believe he deserves a second chance. That all dopers should basically be banned for life. That seems…harsh. Don’t get me wrong, I hate cheating, and am firmly in favour of tough sanctions for those found guilty of it. But after a first offence, and a four-year ban, I think a second chance is merited. Make the same mistake again, and it’s obviously not a mistake. Then we can start talking about writing off careers. But now? Let the man shine. Let the rugby world enjoy the incredible talent he possesses, and that we have missed all these long years.
I’m proud that the Sharks are offering him the chance to redeem himself. He certainly hasn’t been slacking, and has been training hard during his time in the rugby wilderness, so it will be exciting to see what he brings to the squad. A few people have also been speculating about what this means for Makazole Mapimpi, given that they play the same position. I don’t think we need to worry about that. Any team playing in two or three competitions simultaneously needs all the squad depth they can get. And given that the next URC season gets underway during the World Cup (make it make sense), I’d say we’ll get to see Aphiwe run out in the black and white then. I can’t wait.
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