Words by Nicholas McGregor
Photo by Sarah Ward

It was a beautiful Eastern Cape afternoon Saturday at the Graeme College versus Muir College first team rugby game. I sat down on the grassy slope facing the field and got comfortable. I pulled out my box of cigarettes and I was about to light one when I realised I had left my matches at home. Frustrated at my forgetfulness, I scoured the crowd for any signs of smoke projecting from anyone’s hands or mouths to no avail. I saw an older gentleman, smartly dressed in a plaid blazer, in the corner of the crowd, lighting a freshly rolled cigarette. I strolled over and politely asked for a light and he was more than happy to oblige.

I stood there with this man in silence, until he said, “My grandson is playing for Graeme.” He pointed to the player in the number 10 jersey with conviction and an ever widening smile. “His name is Sethu and he is following in my footsteps. I played fly-half as well.”

I asked him if he played at Graeme back in his day, he replied with a wry smile, “No son, I was not allowed to in those days,” my face flashed with a glow of red as my white-guilt burned the insides of my cheeks.

He overlooked my historical insensitivity and carried on, “He is also the captain, and this is his last game. He has played first team for four years, can you believe it?”

I could not believe it. I could not believe that my search for a simple match-stick had led me to this incredible story. I had just met Msitheli Pinini, the grandfather of captain and team talisman, Sethu Pinini. Msitheli had quite a legacy of his own. He played fly-half for Lilly Whites and eventually was president of the Sedru Rugby Union. It was Sethu’s last game for the school, after playing for the first team since grade 9, an astronomical feat at any South African high school. He then went on to play for the Eastern Province Kings at Craven Week last year.

While chatting to Msitheli, it was no surprise that Sethu scored an incredible, individual try. To Msitheli this was nothing unusual. “He pretty much just dummied everybody and scored, he is very good at that,” he said.

I ask Msitheli whether Sethu is as good as he was. “He is very good but he is not quite up to my standards as of yet, Sethu’s grandfather on his mother’s side was also a great player, so he has big shoes to fill.”

I tracked down Sethu after his man-of-the-match performance. I was wary of pulling him away from the post-match celebrations, but he respectfully agreed to speak with me and we found a quiet a seat on the stands away from the revelry.

I told him that his grandfather said he was not quite up to his (Msitheli’s) standard. Sethu laughed and said, “I always try to compare myself to him, I never saw him play but I’ll know when I get there.” Sethu was ecstatic about his season. “It was amazing playing and captaining this side. Being a captain is hard, especially when it comes to making decisions, but it was all worth it to play with this team.”

Asked if he was emotional after playing his last game for a team he had been a part of for so long, Sethu laughed and replied, “It has been great playing for this team but I am excited about the future more than anything else.”

Later that evening, at the Graeme College Rugby Dinner, Sethu was given the Truscott Trophy for most tries in a season and was named the Graeme College player of the season. To add to his list of accomplishments, Sethu recently achieved a scholarship through the Eastern Province Under-19 side.

This means the young fly-half will be extending his prolific career at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and hopefully in the hallowed red and black not long afterwards.

-Originally published in Grocott’s Mail on 29 August 2014

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