Cheetahs offered star a s***** contract
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Rising star Joseph Dweba has lifted the lid on his time at the Cheetahs.
In an interview with Jamie Lyall, Dweba, 24, talked about his journey in South African rugby, the unfair treatment he was receiving under the coaches and his desire to prove everyone wrong.
After starring at youth level for the Golden Lions, Dweba was picked to play for the SA Schools team before going on to make the 2014 South Africa Under-20 squad, a team led by Handre Pollard that went all the way to the Junior World Championship Final.
“With the Under-20s, I didn’t know what coach Dawie Theron wanted from me. He told me I would play, I gave everything in training, but he never gave me proper game time,” said Dweba.
“Then Malcolm Marx tore his ACL in training, and the second-choice hooker, Corniel Els, tore his ACL in the final against England. I had to go on. Wow.
“I made my line-outs, my scrums, my carries. After the game, the boys, Jesse Kriel and them, were like: ‘You’re a beast’.
“What do you mean? I didn’t know what was going on, my eyes were so big. They told me I played a hell of a game.
“Dawie Theron comes to me and says in Afrikaans that it’s a shame he didn’t play me earlier, because he can see how hungry I was. He tells me straight: ‘You are going to be my starting hooker next year’.”
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His coaches were astounded that such a brilliant young player did not have an agent at 19.
Dweba didn’t even have a phone at that stage, far less an advocate to negotiate contracts and secure goodies on his behalf. He found a reliable representative, who helped him sign professional terms with the Cheetahs.
Dweba began life in Bloemfontein poor and car-less and Franco Smith’s fifth-choice hooker, finishing up at Louis Botha, high school number four. He borrowed Smith’s bike to cycle the 10km to training twice a day. He says Rory Duncan, who led the team’s maiden Pro14 campaign, “promised me the moon”, but his opportunities on the field were as rare and fleeting as a lunar eclipse.
“Sorry for my language, but I have been b****** and f***** around so many times. I was getting a minute here, two minutes there. [I] never got clear game time,” he said.
“Torsten van Jaarsveld was first-choice hooker and I was promoted to the bench when he injured his neck. Torsten comes back, and Rory tells me that the senior guy is back, so we just have to make space for him.
“I’m saying: ‘Coach, you just said a month ago that Torsten has to work his way back into the team – it looks like he’s walking back into it, and worst of all, he’s starting”.
That p**** me off a lot. And I did not understand.
“The defence coach tells me to be patient. I can’t be patient for that long, my contract is coming to an end, I need to prove myself, and the Mrs is also pregnant with my kid. I’m giving my all on the training sessions, but this guy is not recognising me and not giving me a contract.”
The Cheetahs offered a meagre new deal, and then withdrew it when Dweba took his time to respond. Their recruitment chief told him that players were investments, and so far, the franchise wasn’t getting much return on its money.
“I went to Harold Verster, the CEO of the company, and told him: ‘You are the only guy I’m telling this, but we’re having a baby, my contract is coming to an end and I want to stay at the Free State, so please help me out’,” Dweba said.
“They gave me the exact same offer that they had taken off the table. It was a s***** contract. I don’t care, I’m having a baby I’ll sign the contract and I’ll work my a** off. I’m going to show them something different about myself.
“Torsten had just left, he told me as he was leaving: ‘This is your jersey, take it, and if you don’t take it, then you’re stupid’.”
Dweba trained like a warrior possessed, smithereening teammates, thundering across the paddock as though the grass on which he ran was a mortal enemy. Little baby Khayone arrived and with fatherhood came a great swell of responsibility.
“Franco Smith himself did not understand what was happening to me. I was hungry. This was my time. When the Currie Cup hit, I just went all-out. That’s when people started to recognise, there’s the Joseph Dweba we know – there he is.”
This season, under Hawies Fourie, Dweba has been stupendous, a dreadlocked colossus wreaking mayhem wherever he rumbles. He was named Currie Cup player of the year after helping propel the Cheetahs to the famous old trophy. In the Pro14, he has bludgeoned his way to seven tries in 12 outings and the team’s line-out is among the most effective in the league.
For all South Africa’s riches at hooker, a Springboks call cannot be far away, even with an overseas contract at Bordeaux-Begles, who finished the abandoned Top 14 season in first place, in the offing.
“I felt like Rassie Erasmus could have invited me to alignment camps before the World Cup, even though I wasn’t in his plans for Japan,” Dweba said.
“It would just be good to see how they work and where are my strengths and weaknesses. I never heard anything.
“Jacques Nienaber, the new coach, said I am in their plans and that moving to France won’t disadvantage me. If I stayed in South Africa, it is much easier for them to call me up, but if I’m shooting the lights out in the Top 14, I’m definitely going to be chosen.
“I have to look after my family. We can put the money we earn in France aside. I feel like I can fit in properly in the league, and I feel like I can dominate, I want to dominate. I want them to know who I am and what I stand for.
“And it’s not just the money. I could have easily chosen a different club – I went to see Castres, Toulouse, Lyon, and the last one was Bordeaux-Begles. That solidified everything for me, because the head coach [Christophe Urios] was a hooker himself, he would help me improve my skills and the team is very good, I’m not just going there to fill in the numbers.”
By Jamie Lyall, @RugbyPass