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Fri Apr 18 20:15:47 SAST 2014

Tyibilika played for the joy of the game

Craig Ray | 15 November, 2011 22:113 Comments
Solly Tyibilika warms up prior to the start of the during the Vodacom Cup match between The Sharks and Border at Absa Statdium on February 26, 2010 in Durban, South Africa
Image by: Steve Haag / Gallo Images

Former Springbok flank Solly Tyibilika was gunned down on Sunday, if not in the prime of his playing career, certainly in the prime of his life, robbing two children of a father and a wife of a husband.

The circumstances surrounding Tyibilika's brutal murder at the hands of two gunmen at a tavern in Crossroads, Cape Town, are still murky, with police not ruling out a "hit" on the talented loose forward.

Those details will emerge in time, and let's hope they reveal Tyibilika was not involved in any nefarious activities because, based on the evidence of the last 10 months, he was enjoying life - at least on the rugby field.

After making his provincial debut for Griquas in 2001, Tyibilika played for the Sharks, the Lions and Border in a professional career during which he earned eight test caps for the Springboks and made 158 first class appearances.

After losing a lucrative contract at the Golden Lions in 2008, Tyibilika headed back to the Eastern Cape and played for the Kings against the 2009 touring British and Irish Lions, and for the Border Bulldogs in 2010.

A move to Cape Town at the beginning of this year was an attempt to re-establish his career at a higher level, and, at the age of 32, even as a Springbok, he was willing to start from the bottom again.

When I chanced to meet Tyibilika on Main Road in Sea Point in February, he told me he'd joined Hamiltons Club in Green Point.

He was walking to practice and at the time was staying in a small flat in Sea Point.

Gone were the flashy trappings of a well-paid professional rugby player, not that Tyibilika was overly absorbed with material wealth.

He was quietly determined to play well enough so that Western Province would be forced to look at him, if not in 2011, then in 2012.

We parted after exchanging phone numbers and promising to meet for coffee and chat again. Sadly it never happened, and now it never will.

Towards the end of the Currie Cup season, I asked WP coach Allister Coetzee if he'd had the chance to see Solly in action for Hamiltons. The coach admitted he hadn't, but he had heard good reports about his performances.

WP have been looking to youth rather than ageing stars and it's debatable whether Tyibilika would have been given a late provincial reprieve at Newlands in the coming season. But that didn't stop him from believing and working towards that goal.

"Solly had only been with the club for a short while, but he had a hugely positive impact on all of us," Hamiltons first team coach Anton Moolman told The Times.

"He became heavily involved in helping our junior teams and was a valued member in our first team squad throughout the season. He also played a big role in coaching his peers and taught many of the younger guys the finer subtleties of the breakdown.

"He started 16 of our 18 games and fitted in easily from the moment he arrived.

"He was a consummate professional who had a strong work ethic and was always seen in the gym or training on the field at the club.

"That commitment translated into some wonderful performances because he was hungry to play rugby and to play for the right reason - the joy of the game."

After dropping out of the Bok squad in 2007, Tyibilika battled to settle in Johannesburg at the Golden Lions and was eventually released from his contract under circumstances that were never fully revealed.

"Solly was a great character and a very good player who worked hard at his game," former Lions and current Boland coach Eugene Eloff said.

"He made the Springbok side on merit, but occasionally he had discipline problems. He'd just disappear for days, even weeks, on end.

"It made it difficult as a coach to select him over other players who turned up for training. I'm sad now when I think that he was one of the few players I've coached that I couldn't get through to.

"His absenteeism eventually led to his departure from the GLRU, but when he played and trained he was brilliant. I still don't know why he would disappear like he did and we never did manage to fully get to the bottom of it.

What has happened is tremendously sad."

Former Springbok wing Breyton Paulse was one of the players closest to Tyibilika when he broke into the Bok team in 2004.

He remembers a humble, hard-working player, who was a born leader.

"When he got his break at test level he worked really hard because he played in a position where South Africa has amazing talent," Paulse said.

"He was almost shy in the Springbok team, but he was determined to make a good career for himself. He made his mark on the game, coming from such humble beginnings, which is the greatest compliment I can give him."

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Tyibilika played for the joy of the game

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Fri Apr 18 20:15:47 SAST 2014 ::

COMMENTS [3]

A true loss to Springbok team. RIP Solly Tyibilika.
Agreed! Always bad when someone get murdered in cold bold!
*blood