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How Siya's advice got fellow Springbok back on track

ONE-ON-ONE AUDIENCE: Aphelele Onke Okuhle Fassi is once again producing the form that saw him appear on the Springbok radar in 2021.

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And while the 26-year-old is avoiding the debate around his obvious desire to add to his three Bok caps, he has revealed to @rugby365com what has contributed to his skyrocketing form and change in attitude.

His sublime display in the 23-13 United Rugby Championship win over Edinburgh last Saturday encapsulates the state of his game.

Apart from scoring a dazzling try, Fassi was menacing with the ball in hand.

He produced a game-high in successful carries (nine), clean breaks (two), defenders beaten (five), metres gained (139) and offloads (five).

However, this wasn’t his first showstopper for the season.

He is second on the URC’s list for carries after 13 rounds – his 148 topped only Gavin Coombes’ 185.

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Fassi is third on the list of successful carries with 62 – behind Coombes (87 ) and Evan Roos (67).

However, in the category of metres gained he reins supreme – Fassi’s 967 metres well ahead of second-placed Josh Mckay’s 805.

He also tops the list of clean breaks with 18, ahead of Rob Russell (15) in second place.

With such sublime form, it raises the question of Springbok selection, especially after he missed out on World Cup selection in 2023.

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However, Fassi admitted that a horror run of injuries since 2022 has contributed to his absence from the Springbok honours list since his three Tests in 2021.

Those injuries included a torn Anterior Talo-Fibular Ligament and fractured fibula.

Despite the obvious disappointment, Fassi said he ‘faced the reality’ of injuries and came back in pre-season to ‘work hard’.

And a chat with Springbok captain Siya Kolisi assisted in getting into the right mindset.

“Coming into pre-season, it felt like I had missed two seasons of playing,” he said, adding: “My mindset was about ‘starting afresh’, focusing on those things that I do well and working on the aspects that I was not good at.”

Fassi said he ‘reached out’ to a few people, including Kolisi – who miraculously recovered from knee surgery to lead South Africa to back-to-back World Cup victories last year.

“I asked him what drove him to remain positive,” the Sharks flyer said, adding: “He told me to take each day and each game as it comes.

“He told me to ‘keep the hunger’ and enjoy myself,” he said of his chat with the Bok legend, who is also managed by Roc Nation Sports International.

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Fassi said not much has changed in his game, but he is more ‘proactively’ looking for opportunities – rather than just waiting at the back for the ball to come to him.

“With my touches, I want to put people into space and use the opportunities to put the team on the front foot,” Fassi told @rugby365com.

He said his defence is the one aspect that gets plenty of attention, while his communication with his teammates also received attention.

Evolving his ‘playmaking’ role is another aspect he feels is important.

“Being around the team’s attacking weapons and being able to give direction and being an additional pair of eyes for our flyhalf is important.”

While most fullbacks should have that in their arsenal, Willie le Roux is the gold standard of fullback support in Fassi’s mind.

“The game revolves around the scrumhalf, flyhalf and the fullback – being the ears and eyes for the other backs and putting the forwards into the right spaces,” he said.

“That is a massive role that a fullback needs to play,” Fassi added.

After a disappointing URC season, the Sharks now shift their focus to Europe’s Challenge Cup – where they host Italian franchise Zebre in a Round of 16 face-off in Durban on Sunday.

“We are not going to pretend that our struggles in the URC did not happen,” he said, adding: “However, our last two matches – against Ulster [a 22-12 win] and Ulster [a 23-13 win] – is a true reflection of what we wanted to achieve.

“Against Zebre the key will be for us to finish our opportunities and controlling the territory game are vital aspects of our game.

“We also need to remain calm, because in the Round of 16 it is not about bonus points but just the win.”

@king365ed
@rugby365com

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