He may be heading off to Kimberley this weekend instead of being in Treviso, Italy, but just having the joy of regular playing opportunity is giving Phepsi Buthelezi a broad grin these days and bringing out the best in the Sharks eighthman.
The unfortunate knee injury suffered by Sikhumbuzo Notshe has allowed Buthelezi to step up and the 22-year-old has been one of the Sharks’ star players in recent weeks, particularly with ball in hand.
His form was not enough, though, to elevate the Sharks above the Bulls, and instead of playing in the Rainbow Cup final against Benetton Treviso this weekend, the Durbanites will be travelling to Kimberley to open their Currie Cup campaign against Griquas on Saturday.
“We would all have loved to have been in Italy, it’s very disappointing that we didn’t make it, but we put ourselves in this position and now we have to make the most of it and make sure we put in a great performance in Kimberley,” Buthelezi said on Wednesday.
“Although I grew up watching guys like Ardie Savea and Kieran Read play, and Sikhumbuzo and Duane Vermeulen are leading the pack here, I just want to show what I can bring to the table.
“I don’t want to be like someone else. We all bring something different. It was very unfortunate for Sikhumbuzo to go down the way he did and he’s a very important part of our squad. But it has given me more opportunity and I’ve been able to grow as a player, for which I’m really grateful.”
Amid all the disappointment of once again falling short behind the Bulls, Buthelezi says there is still a great vibe in the Sharks camp.
“The coaches always give us a lot of backing and the management behind the scenes too,” Buthelezi said. “We haven’t got the results we wanted in some of the games, but I think our performances are getting better.
“Personally, with more opportunity, I am learning and growing and I always go back and look at games to see how I can play better. I feel very fortunate to play for the Sharks and the environment allows me to be myself.
“We’ll have a very fresh squad this weekend, with a lot of different guys getting an opportunity, but everyone is hungry to play. It’s always a tough trip to Kimberley. We know they will be physical and confrontational, they will want to bully us up front.
“But it will be very refreshing to play them after just playing the other three franchises for so long.”