From an Eskom power station worker to a rugby champion

Dylan Bettencourt

Seven years ago, Stormers assistant coach Rito Hlungwani was working on an Eskom project.

Today he is coaching the team that has won the inaugural United Rugby Championship (URC).

The former Western Province player did not envision a future that involved coaching, let alone winning a major tournament.

But this is not the first time he has been convinced to give up a full-time job for a role in rugby. In 2005, Nick Mallett prized him away from a construction site to play for the Western Province.

“In 2005, I was working for Paarl Construction as a junior quantity surveyor and playing. I was one of probably three players who didn’t have a contract, so I had to go to work and then train straight after.

“It was very tough. After a while, Nick Mallett decided he was going to offer me a contract. I started my professional rugby career and had to let go of quantity surveying for a while,” Hlungwani said, per News24.

After retiring from playing the sport in 2010, Hlungwani went back to his work as a quantity surveyor.

He was then involved in a long-running project in a small town called Vanderkloof in the Northern Cape.

“It was an Eskom project, which I was running, and I was at the end of it. Coincidentally, Gert Smal [former Stormers director of rugby] called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m looking for a lineout coach for the WP Rugby Institute’s Under-19s’,” he said.

He took the opportunity with both hands and later joined the Stormers as an assistant coach.

“I dropped quantity surveying again, for a second time, and now we’re here. We’re champions,” Hlungwani said.

The Stormers won the inaugural URC on Saturday, defeating the Blue Bulls in a thrilling final held in Cape Town.

Many would not have thought the Stormers would go all the way, especially after losing Springbok captain Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit.

But that they did, becoming champions after trailing their opponents early on in the encounter.

Image source: @SuperSport