Promising FNB NMMU-Madibaz rugby player Junior Pokomela had a big decision to make when he made a name for himself as a top schools star in 2014.
Having being selected for the South African Schools team, the former Grey High pupil had to consider offers from the Cheetahs and the EP Kings as he pondered his future.
Two years later, Pokomela has no doubt that the decision to stay in his home town of Port Elizabeth was the best move for him.
The tall number eight was a key performer for the EP Kings U19 team in winning last year’s Currie Cup premier division title, and he now faces the next challenge of his burgeoning career when he represents South Africa at the Junior World Rugby Championship in England from Tuesday.
While the Baby Boks will be among the top contenders for the title, Pokomela said their immediate focus was only on their opening match against Japan.
“I have not set myself too many goals at this stage,” Pokomela, christened Siphatu, but now known mainly as Junior, said.
“My only aim is to make the starting team to play Japan and then to take it from there.”
He said he was delighted to have a number of his university team-mates – Jeremy Ward, the captain, Tango Balekile, Nicolaas Oosthuizen and Keanu Vers – in the squad.
“It’s great to have them here, but I have also made some new friends, so it’s very chilled and there is a great vibe in the camp,” said the 19-year-old.
“The guys are confident and positive, but we know there will be some tough opponents, such as England and New Zealand. But, for the moment, we are only focusing on Japan.”
Pokomela said he had to make the tough decision to join the Cheetahs or the Saru Kings Academy while he was still in high school.
“Robbi Kempson (former Springbok and Academy manager) spoke to me and told me of my opportunities with the Kings, where I would be able to study and play at the same time.
“As I look back, I’m so happy to have made that decision. Born and bred in PE, I enjoyed the environment and the facilities on offer.
“I’m so grateful to Robbi because he helped me out a couple of times and it was not always rugby-based. We are like a family here at the Academy and it’s not always just about the rugby.”
The second-year business management student, who attended Rowallan Park Primary School and VP Grey Primary School before going to Grey, said it was a balancing act to meet his rugby and study commitments.
“NMMU are very helpful in this regard. They try to help you work things out.”