Sharks flanker Ryan Kankowski came from obscurity to establish himself as one of his team’s standout players in the Absa Currie Cup.
At just 20-years-old he has already made a profound impression on Dick Muir, who in a recent interview described him as “one of the most promising young flankers in South African rugby.”
But his subsequent establishment as a regular part of the Sharks match-day squad belies the pre-season uncertainty he felt.
“At the beginning of the year I didn’t know whether I was in Dick’s plans for the season,” he told keo.co.za. “I was just going to focus on having a good season with the U21′s and see what happened from there.
“Then he included me in the pre-season friendly against the Western Force and he must of liked what he saw. It just kind of snowballed from there I guess.”
Even in his debut Currie Cup season the youngster has already learnt some valuable lessons about what is required to compete at this level and is now in a position to assess his overall game, which he does pragmatically.
“I’ve really trained hard and I see a big improvement in my game from the beginning of the season to now,” he said. “I’m working hard with Mark Steele [strength coach] to get to my goal weight of 109kg [he currently weighs 103kg].
“At U21 level you could get away with it [being that weight] but in the Currie Cup you can feel the difference in contact. The guys are so much bigger and stronger,” he adds. “But I’ll get there, I’m still young.
“Obviously I’d like to be number one in my position, but that’s not realistic at the moment,” he said when asked about his short-term goals.
Kankowski has been the pick of Muir’s young brigade, often making a significant impact whether in the starting lineup or in his more accustomed role of impact player.
“It’s always a worry when you are not getting as much game time as you’d like, but I’m not a superstar and I don’t expect to walk into the team. I’ve still got a lot to work on.”
Kankowski will most likely play off the bench again against the Lions but this didn’t stop him from sharing his reservations about what some are hailing as a Lions revival.
“They’ll definitely come at us hard and they will be looking for a bit of revenge for the last game [ the Sharks won 33-22].
“It’s hard to get yourself up to the intensity they showed against the Bulls for two games in a row and I don’t know if they can, but they’ll be tough.”
He said the Sharks were looking to improve on their last error-marred game against the Valke.
“We didn’t stick to the gameplan in the first half. We were supposed to keep it tight but ended up throwing it around a bit,” he said. “This weekend’s game we’ll have to cut out those mistakes.”
He noted that the Lions are a well balanced side and are unpredictable because they pose a threat in their forwards and backs.
“If Andre [Pretorius] plays he’ll be their key man because he can kick and run the ball. He really gets them going as you saw against the Bulls.”
Pretorius’ availability though is in doubt after the injury plagued flyhalf broke down with shin splints in training with the Springboks yesterday but Ricky Januarie returns for the Lions.
The Bok management are yet to confirm whether Sharks lock Johann Muller will be released to play this weekend. A decision is expected early tomorrow.
By Ryan Vrede