by Rich Dore
The path of any top athlete is often a long and arduous one as Isuzu Southern Kings centre Howard Mnisi can attest.
The South African, who joined Southern Kings in the summer, will spend the remainder of the campaign looking to help them improve on a difficult Guinness PRO14 season so far.
Here we look at a story of fighting back from adversity and becoming a figure of inspiration for the next generation.
Adding to Kolisi’s story
South Africa’s World Cup victory in Japan provided a watershed moment as Siya Kolisi became the first black man to captain the rainbow nation at the tournament.
In lifting the trophy, Kolisi and the Springboks made more history, but Southern Kings director of high performance Robbi Kempson believes the skipper’s story is far from unique.
Kempson says Mnisi, who has risen to PRO14 level despite financial challenges, can provide similar inspiration.
“The love of the game is massive. Kids can see Siya Kolisi lift the World Cup and see Howard Mnisi do very well in the PRO14 and that makes a difference,” Kempson said.
“Howard Mnisi doesn’t come from an affluent background and a number of our players don’t either.
“Even if they (kids) don’t want to be Springboks, it does bring development in other areas because they are from such disadvantaged backgrounds.
“The main aim which these players are trying to do is to be kings in their community and be inspiring to that youth.”
Battling back from injury
Having come through the Sharks academy before spells with Varsity Cup side NMMU Madibaz and Currie Cup outfit Griquas – as well as a trial with the Free State Cheetahs – a move to Super Rugby side Lions provided the next step in Mnisi’s progression in 2015.
He would spend the following three years with the club and went on to represent South Africa ‘A’ on two occasions in 2016, with a potential Springboks call-up appearing not too far away.
But that development was halted in the cruellest of circumstances in 2017, when injury struck and left Mnisi facing a sustained period on the sidelines.
The injury came in a clash with Cheetahs as Mnisi suffered horrific damage to his knee, which ended his season and resulted in corrective surgery.
Nearly a year out followed, and it started the gruelling road back to fitness and eventual move to the Guinness PRO14 in 2019.
Long journey to the PRO14
At 30 years old, Mnisi is playing in the PRO14 for the first time this season and has so far made four appearances for Southern Kings.
While the centre has been unable to help his side off the foot of the Conference B table so far, he will likely still be relishing the challenge of playing in the league.
And if his previous attitude to adversity is anything to go by, then the likeable back will be doing everything in his power to help turn the Kings’ fortunes around.