Lusanda Xakwana’s Polish Experience, Future Aspirations

Lusanda Xakwana excelled in Poland. The temperatures were chilly and yet he persevered until he could not endure being homesick.

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By Rethabile Nyelele
Images supplied by Lusanda Xakwana

“I started taking rugby seriously when I was in high school – that is when I knew I wanted to make rugby my career,” says Lusanda Xakwana, 26, who began his rugby career at the age of 12.

Xakwana made an exceptional appearance when he played at the Varsity 7s and Varsity Shield during the 2016/2017 season for Walter Sisulu University. At the time, he was studying for a Diploma in Sports Management. In 2020, the Tshwane University of Technology offered him a full-time bursary to represent them in the 2020/2021 Varsity Rugby Cup season.

During this season, Xakwana gained a nomination for Overall Player of the season and was also nominated for the best back player position. After the season, Xakwana’s rugby career seriously took off last year when he secured an offer to play for a Polish club, Lechia Gdańsk.

The Poland journey 

The club offered him a three-year contract. This was the greatest opportunity and he understood how hard it is to leave home. “Poland is great! The people are very friendly. It’s cheaper and safer,” he says with a smile. “You can literally walk around town at night.”

But moving to a new country comes with its challenges and obstacles. One of the challenges that he faced was the language barrier. “We couldn’t understand each other at times, but I liked how the teammates were willing to learn English and I was also learning their language. The coach is from Russia; he knew a little bit of English,” recalls Xakwana, adding that, nevertheless, he never felt out of place.

In fact, he enjoyed his stay, including the cuisine “even though I didn’t know what I was eating,” he laughs. There are striking differences between Polish rugby compared to South Africa. “It’s not competitive compared to here [SA]. Our captain was also the captain for the national team so it’s easy to play for a national team in Poland,” he says, adding that they even played in extremely cold conditions.

It was freezing and snowing. He never got used to the temperatures. In the midst of this weather, there was something more unbearable: homesickness! “I missed home and my family – I was not going to stay in Poland for three months so I came back and Valke offered me a deal. I took it since I still want to play at home.” Xakwana says at the end of the Polish league, he returned to his Mqanduli hometown situated at the OR Tambo District in the Eastern Cape.

He took on a one-year contract with Valke: a team currently in the fifth position of Currie Cup First Division. The Mqanduli star shared how he wants to play for bigger teams in South Africa. “I want to play for the team with the blue shirts (Vodacom Blue Bulls) or the team with black shirts (Cell C Sharks),” he laughs, adding that the experience he garnered in Poland can be of great value to South African teams.

What does it take to walk in Xakwana’s shoes? “It is not easy. All it needs is patience and hardwork,” he says. “Eventually you will get there, just keep doing what you’re doing.”

For now, the Currie Cup First Division league is done and dusted but not for Xakwana who is performing well in the regional World Sports Betting (WSB) Carlton League, made up of eight clubs. In this league, Xakwana plays for the Pretoria-based club called Tuine Grizzlies, which is in sixth place in the league. 

Yet adaptable, Xakwana’s eyes are locked much higher. His goal is to play for the Springboks.

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