There will be an understandable temptation to compare Junior Pokomela’s path with Siya Kolisi’s when he runs out to play his 50th match for the Cheetahs this weekend.
The 22-year-old is, after all, an openside flanker like the Springbok captain, has essentially the exact same build and is also a proud Grey High alumnus.
Unfortunately for the romantics, Pokomela and Kolisi didn’t know each other at school.
“When I got there, Siya Kolisi wasn’t there anymore, but he was obviously a famous man at the school. There are a couple of Boks that came from the school,” said the flanker.
But the now well-documented journey of South Africa’s World Cup-winning skipper still inspired Pokomela, who’s own humble middle-class upbringing didn’t quite present the challenges Kolisi had to face.
“I feel he is the one name that stood out (when I got to Grey),” said Pokomela.
“How he grew up and how he made the most of his opportunities. That is what inspires a lot of people, including me and others in South Africa. I feel he has set the benchmark, and hopefully more can follow and produce what he has produced.”
Pokomela certainly has done his bit in trying to make use of his opportunities.
In fact, his stock had been high as a schoolboy already, making SA Schools and being named vice-captain of the Junior Springboks at 2016’s World Championship.
Sensing a fine talent on the horizon, the Cheetahs didn’t wait to see if Pokomela’s beloved Southern Kings would fight to keep him.
His age meant the central franchise took a measured approach to him gaining experience, but now he’s become a key figure for the team in the Pro14.
“It’s a small victory for me, but it is a big thing, as it happened so quickly. I wasn’t expecting it and didn’t even know it happened. It’s an honour to be playing my 50th game this weekend. I wouldn’t have done it without the guys I’ve played with before and the guys now. I’m grateful to the coaches who gave me the opportunity,” said Pokomela.
However, he’s had to divide his attention this week given that he’s writing exams for his studies towards a Bachelors of Business Administration degree.
Pokomela had to balance the books with an Accounting examination on Wednesday and wrote Economics on Thursday.
“It’s a challenge to study while you’re playing, but I’m trying my best and hopefully I can get it done. It just keeps you in line.”
He might not be juggling as much duties as Kolisi, but it’s no less impressive.