Whenever there’s been talked about Makazole Mapimpi, memories are jogged back to last year when Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus made a bold statement about the explosive Sharks winger.
“Hell I must say, if I must rank players in the 35-man squad who have improved the most Makazole is undoubtedly No 1,” he said.
“He’s such a hard worker. He’s always fit and he’s always available and ready for the call of duty. If there were certain aspects of his game that were a 3 or a 4 out of 10, they’re now closer to 8 or 9.”
Fast forward almost a year later and pretty much no-one believes those words to be over-exaggeration.
The 28-year-old has managed to rise above a crowded group of in-form wings in this year’s South African conference and is now arguably in the inside lane for the Green-and-Gold jersey in the lead-up to the World Cup.
“He’s the best winger in the country at this stage,” said Sharks coach Robert du Preez.
“I’m just so pleased for him. He’s such a popular guy, his teammates really love his company.”
Yet even if Mapimpi was on an upward curve in the past two seasons, he’s skyrocketed in 2019.
“His high-ball management has improved tremendously, his defence has been outstanding and his work rate is just top class,” said Du Preez.
“You see him on the field everywhere. That type of roaming doesn’t bother me at all because he always gets back into the position he needs to be. We’ve realised you need to give him freedom, because then he thrives.”
Mapimpi will certainly have his work cut out this afternoon at Kings Park against a vaunted Hurricanes attack, but his sheer versatility nowadays would make one back him at all times.
It’s also probably no coincidence that his surge is accompanied by attack coach David Williams joining the Durbanites.
“He worked with him at the Kings when he started to make his name. David deserves a lot of credit,” said Du Preez.
Sharks: Aphelele Fassi, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, Andre Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi, Curwin Bosch, Louis Schreuder (c), Dan du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Jacques Vermeulen, Ruan Botha, Ruben van Heerden, Coenie Oosthuizen, Kerron van Vuuren, Mzamo Majola. Bench: Cullen Collopy, Juan Schoeman, Thomas du Toit, Hyron Andrews, Tyler Paul, Cameron Wright, Robert du Preez jr, Kobus van Wyk.