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The rise and rise of Makazole Mapimpi

By now, rugby fans around the world are more than familiar with the try-scoring machine, Makazole Mapimpi. Even before he scored the first ever try by a South African in a Rugby World Cup final in 2019 (a moment I still can’t watch without crying), he was renowned for his impressive ability to cross that white line in almost every game he plays in. In fact, by the end of November 2021, he had scored 20 tries in 25 Tests – the least number of games it’s taken any Springbok to achieve that milestone. He’s also scored against every nation he’s ever played against. Impressive to say the least.

But what makes Makazole so impressive isn’t just his blistering pace and his ability to find the try line time and time again. At 31 years old, one might reasonably expect him to be close to ten years into his Springbok career, but in fact he only made his debut in 2018. Anyone who watched Rassie Erasmus’ emotional tribute to Makazole in Chasing the Sun would already have been aware that he overcame some unbelievable challenges to become the player he is today, but few may really have known the extent of these difficulties.

The fantastic documentary MAP1MP1, released on 27 March 2022, provides new insight into the incredible tale behind the Springbok number 11’s success. It details his journey from rural Tsholomnqa in the Eastern Cape, where he lived below the breadline and played barefoot rugby using a ball made from plastic packets, to that glorious moment on the world stage in 2019. It’s easy to understand Rassie’s emotions in that Chasing the Sun insert when we learn more about the losses Makazole experienced at a young age, with his mother and siblings passing away, and his father entirely disinterested in him, and equally easy to be amazed by the tenacity and dedication he showed in finding a way to succeed in the sport he loves. It would have been so, so easy for him to NOT be a Springbok. There is a path that most South African rugby players follow to achieve that pinnacle of success. It usually involves starting to play the game at a young age, going to what is considered a good rugby school, having the opportunity to play in celebrated age grade rugby competitions, and connected to that, the opportunity to be identified as a potential young talent. Makazole had none of those advantages. What he did have was unbelievable talent and almost unimaginable determination to keep playing, despite all the challenges he faced.

I think many people outside South Africa, and indeed more than a few within her borders, would struggle to truly comprehend those challenges. MAP1MP1 not only sheds light on this, but also highlights the wealth of talent that has been nurtured in the Eastern Cape, where they have a deep love of rugby. Hopefully Makazole’s story will inspire many more young people to continue to follow their dreams, and hopefully it will not be as challenging for them.

Of course, while that fateful day in Tokyo lends a fairytale quality to Makazole’s story, it doesn’t end there. He continues to shine whenever he plays, and fans continue to fall in love with his generous spirit and determined excellence. I can’t wait to see what he does next, as we start the build up to the next World Cup.

MAP1MP1 is currently available on DSTV Catch Up in South Africa. There is talk that it will also be distributed internationally.

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