Mohoje: The unknown element

Date published: September 25 2014

Teboho “Oupa” Mohoje will be entering unknown waters in more ways than one on Saturday as he faces the Wallabies.

The Cheetahs flank will make his first start for the Springboks at Newlands on Saturday after playing just a handful of Super Rugby games.

Starting your first Test is a daunting enough experience but Mohoje’s meteoric rise into the international ranks means that he has never played against any of Australia’s loose trio, at any level.

“The Cheetahs never played against the Waratahs this season so I never got to play against Michael Hooper, and I don’t recall playing against any of their other loose-forwards either. This will be the first time I am coming up against them,” said Mohoje.

“I got my chance because of injuries to some of the other players in the Cheetahs team. At the start of the year I was playing Varsity Cup and I wouldn’t have been thinking at that stage that I would be part of the Springbok set-up so quickly. I just wanted to establish myself with the Cheetahs and take my chance at Super Rugby level.

“I’ve played 10 Super Rugby matches for the Cheetahs, and (only) five of those were in the starting team.”

The situation swings both ways, though, and Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie has admitted that the visitors know very little about the new Bok blindside or what to expect from him.

Mohoje’s inexperience has seen some cynics question whether his selection has been fast-tracked because of the colour of his skin.

It was a topic the Australian journalists at Wednesday’s press conference were keen to pursue but the 24-year-old echoed the sentiments of coach Heyneke Meyer, who had earlier insisted that his selection was part of a long-term plan.

“I think I was selected here on merit, the coach has told me that. He said when he sat me down to talk about his plans with me that I am in the squad on merit,” said Mohoje.

“So the quota thing is not something I have much to say about.”

“I think the main point is not to read too much into it, because if you do then it will affect you.

“I’ve been working really hard, particularly on my conditioning. The fitness guys have really pushed me and I feel ready to play now.

“With coach Heyneke I always knew where I stood. We had lots of one-on-ones, and he told me what his plans were,” he added.

“He told me what I needed to work on, where I needed to improve. I was always going to play some role at some stage, whether it was off the bench or in the starting team, and that time is now.

“It is a big opportunity. It’s a privilege to be here and I need to use this opportunity. Willem Alberts’ shoes are big ones to fill, but I’ve had a lot of support from the other guys

“Duane (Vermeulen) and Marcell (Coetzee) have taken me under their wing, they are fairly experienced players. Duane is one of the senior players here and he has also taught me quite a bit so I can’t wait to play with those guys because I know we will make a good combination.

At the team announcement Meyer explained how, given Mohoje’s inexperience, he had been reluctant to throw him into the deep end while on tour overseas.

But back on home soil, and with enough time in the squad to find his feet, his time has come.

“Oupa’s selection definitely didn’t have anything to do with (outside pressure),” said Meyer.

“You can probably ask Oupa that. I have had a plan with Oupa since day one. I told him last week that he would probably start this game.

“I am really excited to see him go as I think he can add some value, particularly in the wider channels as a big ball carrier and he can do some great things there.

“He is also brilliant in the line-outs and we have worked on his defence and ball steals. This is the right time to let him loose. He deserves his start.”