Within the 14 weeks that Super Rugby has lasted to date, Thembelani Bholi has become one of the unsung heroes of the Bulls pack of forwards.
It’s a real testament to the 28-year-old flanker’s no-frills approach to the game.
During the first week of the Bulls’ current Super Rugby campaign, coach John Mitchell surprised with the selection of Bholi for the match against the Hurricanes.
He had been contracted by the union following a fine Currie Cup campaign with the Pumas but wasn’t in Mitchell’s initial Super Rugby squad.
Yet injuries meant Bholi had to fill in during the pre-season and performed so well that he couldn’t be ignored.
“Thembelani is quite deliberate. There’s no fancy stuff about him,” said Mitchell at the time.
“The players will share my sentiment that his teammates enjoy him, basically because he’s very quiet about the way he goes about things.”
And being quiet (and himself) has been rewarding.
In short but heartening video with the Bulls’ Facebook page, Bholi revealed that his bruising way of play started when he was a young boy.
He hails from Mooiplaas, a rural community about 50km outside East London, and grew up in a rugby-mad family.
“I played a lot of games with my friends next to the river close to our village,” said Bholi.
“We used plastic to make a ball for ourselves.”
However, as time progressed, Bholi realised he might need new “competition” because his friends weren’t always too keen to play with him.
“The thing is, I was the hardest player in my family because I was big and chubby. My friends started to become afraid of facing me when we played,” he said, a mischievous smile forming over his face.
That method has changed.
Bholi still loves playing the role of bulldozer.
He’s full of praise for the influence Mitchell has had on his development.
“I’m really enjoying my rugby this year. Coach Mitch gave me a chance to prove myself,” said Bholi.
“I love playing under him. He gives proper chances and is very clear about what he expects from me. I love being physical, I love running into the opposition and making them dread to defend my channel.”