What ever happened to four-try Johannesburg hero Jongi Nokwe?

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Jongi Nokwe helped demolish the Wallabies with a record four tries in their last Ellis Park visit in 2008, not knowing it would be the second-last Test he would ever play.

Nokwe lit up Ellis Park in a 2008 53-6 thrashing of Australia scoring those four tries in just 55 minutes of play, before twisting his ankle and ending the game on the bench.

That outing was his third of just four Test caps, with his international career ending much earlier than anyone had predicted for the electric Cheetahs winger.

Eleven years on from that Test, 37-year-old Nokwe is still the most recent Springbok to have scored four tries in a match and holds the record for the most tries from a Springbok in a Rugby Championship match.

Looking back now, he is still quick to put all the credit on his teammates but admits it was a day where things really clicked.

"I think what came together is one, just performing for my teammates because that game wasn't about me, it was about the team," he said.

"I'm fortunate, the team got good go forward ball and we were really dominant in the forwards.

"As a winger, your job is just make sure you finish, just make sure you're in the position at the right time. That's what I did at Ellis Park, that's why I say it was about my teammates and not myself."

Regardless of who takes the credit, the game still has a special place in Nokwe's heart, the only match at any level in which he was able to score four tries.

"I didn't score four tries before that or after that. I think in Currie Cup the most tries I scored was three," he said.

"It was just one of those days.

"I wasn't expecting it at all. We were playing against  the Aussies, one of the best teams in the world and you'd never expect to score four tries against them."

His Test swansong came in the 2009 Lions tour, an achievement he ranks as among his most treasured.

"I think that is in the same league as the World Cup, playing in a Lions series because you can only do it once in a while," he said.

"I got the opportunity to play against some of the good players who I had followed their whole careers, like Shane Williams. I was so lucky to play against him and I was so lucky, after the game he gave me his jersey so I cannot forget about that."

A knee injury suffered playing for the Cheetahs in 2010  forced him out of the game for a year and when he returned, Nokwe felt immediately that he wasn't the same player.

"It was unfortunate, I hurt my knee and then I was out for about a year," he said.

"When I did come back and start playing, I felt like I wasn't the same Jongi that I was before. 

"My strength was always my speed and when I returned to playing, I knew I wasn't going to be the same."

While he didn't make the decision immediately, Nokwe made the call to retire when he knew he would never be able to get back to his best, that his playing days were over.

It wasn't an easy choice for Nokwe, whose life had been centred around rugby for as long as he could remember but on reflection he said it was the right call.

"From other players talking to them, they retire from injuries, they made me realise one thing," he said.

"They said You're not only rugby and I know it was tough but I thought I'm going to be fine, and I'm fine now."

It was once he retired, that he turned to coaching, not wanting to fully leave behind his lifelong passion, and he now holds a position coaching South Africa's Western Province women's team.

The raw passion that the women have for the game is something that Nokwe embraces in his new endeavour, in his third year of coaching the side.

"I love it, the boys they come and they're already ready as a team, where the girls are more like they've never really done it before but they want to play  rugby and they wouldn't be able to play otherwise," he said.

"Women's rugby in South Africa is definitely getting more popular and I love coaching them."

He has high hopes for his coaching career, aspiring to steer a national team one day but for now, he is looking forward to the opportunity to help uncover the"next Jongi".

"Rugby was always what I loved, it's always what I knew my entire life, so I was always going to be doing something in rugby," he said.

"I can't imagine doing something without rugby and I hope I can try and find the next Jongi out there."

When this weekend's Johannesburg Test rolls around, Nokwe will be tuning in and asked if he felt any Bok might be able to better his record on Sunday (AEST), he singled out Sharks speedster S'ibusiso Nkosi.

While Nkosi might pose some threats for the Wallabies, if the past decade is anything to go by, it seems that record will be safe and sound with Nkowe for a little bit longer.

South Africa takes on the Wallabies at Ellis Park, Johannesburg on Saturday July 20, kicking off at 5:05pm local, Sunday 1:05am AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and Kayo.