Cape Town – While the Bulls have a full-time psychologist in their organisation – and there are other support structures in South African rugby – the Sbu Nkosi situation is a “wake-up call for everybody in sport again”.
That was the bigger picture Bulls CEO Edgar Rathbone spoke about yesterday following the disappearance of Nkosi, who was found at his stepfather’s house in Mpumalanga on Monday after being missing for three weeks.
The last contact with the Bulls wing was on Friday, November 11, and he failed to report for training on Monday, November 14.
After several visits to his living quarters in Pretoria, multiple texts and calls to Nkosi and his family, the Bulls were unable to locate him until the story broke in the media on Friday.
Despite not getting the required assistance from the police, who Rathbone said didn’t want to open a missing person’s case as the team management were not immediate family, the Bulls approached one of their commercial partners – security company SSG – for help.
After the media publicity and tip-offs from the public, Rathbone made the trip to eMalahleni (formerly Witbank) in Mpumalanga, and found the Springbok wing on Monday afternoon.
“Sbu stepped up to the gate and opened it for me without hesitation or resistance. We shared brief pleasantries because of the pouring rain, and he invited me inside where we spent some 40 minutes speaking,” the Bulls boss said yesterday.
“We were thrilled to find Sbu and incredibly relieved to see that he was
alive. Equally, we were saddened to see him in the state that he was in, a gentle soul who has somewhat seen his light dim owing to his current well-being.”
Rathbone stated that Nkosi had consulted Bulls team psychologist Henning Gericke since moving to Pretoria from the Sharks earlier this year, having found it difficult in the capital city.
He had arrived at the Bulls to work with one of his mentors, head coach Jake White, from their days at Jeppe High School in Johannesburg, but had been battling with injuries earlier in the year.
And once he had recovered, he was picked for the Springboks again for the November tour to Europe – only to sustain a rib injury against the Sharks on October 30, which ruled him out of the tour.
“Sbu made it very clear yesterday again that he was unbelievably excited to join the Bulls, as this was his fresh start,” Rathbone said.
“And there must have been disappointment from his side to not be on that flight that night to go and join the Springboks, because of his injury. That all plays a part …
“Was this just an unfortunate episode of accumulative circumstances? And I think that’s exactly what we are dealing with.
“We need to understand that Sbu probably came onto the scene at a very young age, at 20, left his parents’ house at an even younger age to pursue a dream of going to Jeppe and being a professional sportsman. That does have its pressure. He is a World Cup winner at the age of 22, 23, so I think in the end, it just adds up.”
The Bulls are giving Nkosi the necessary time and space, and have not placed a timeline on his return to the field. In fact, Rathbone said that the 26-year-old could even join another team if he felt that was the way to go in his career, but that the Pretoria union would provide the help he needed to get better.
“Henning has had a number of sessions with him. It was an adjustment for Sbu to move and come into a new environment, a new place to stay,” Rathbone said.
“The adjustment, we tried to help him through that – the fact of the matter is that he battled with that.
“But at the end of the day, we as men don’t really say how badly it is going with us. That’s a lesson we can learn: that it is Okay to say you are not Okay.
“Through MyPlayers, there is a massive support structure. They actually do mental health screening on a regular basis.
“Again, I’m not saying we haven’t done enough, but it’s just sort of looking at yourself again and saying, ‘What more could you have done?’, and ‘How can we ramp that up?’.
“But I think this is just a wake-up call for everybody in sport again. In a space of about 12 months, we have now seen Michael Hooper (Wallaby rugby captain) withdrawing, Ben Stokes (England Test cricket captain) withdrawing …
“I think it’s a reality of professional sport. These are not machines … they are human beings. There is tremendous pressure on a day-to-day basis on them to perform.”
Meanwhile, the Bulls continued their preparations yesterday for Saturday’s Champions Cup debut against Lyon at Loftus Versfeld (7.30pm kick-off).