AUDIO: Joey Mongalo: Cricket's loss is rugby's gain
IN THE SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: It often happens that promising rugby players take up a cricket career after school. Joey Mongalo is the polar opposite.
Think of Peter Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers (to name but a few) as world class players who - for various reasons - took up cricket after school - despite showing enormous promise as rugby players.
The 'first love' for Joey Mongalo, by his own admission, was cricket. In fact he was once a teammate of AB de Villiers.
However, the former Blue Bulls scrumhalf and centre, Mongalo, will be the Lions' defence coach when they open their campaign against the Sharks at Ellis Park on Saturday.
He was first named as Breakdown and Backline coach in December last year. Subsequently long-time defence guru JP Ferreira moved to Irish province Munster and Mongalo took over that portfolio.
"Originally I am actually a cricketer," Mongalo told rugby365 in a one-on-one interview this week.
"I was fortunate in 2002 to play with [Protea stars] AB [de Villiers], Faf [du Plessis] and Heino Kuhn in the domestic schools provincial tournament.
"That [cricket] was my first love."
Things didn't quite work out for him at the Northerns cricket academy. He then got a bursary at the University of Pretoria and got into the Bulls rugby structures.
He was a member of three championship-winning junior teams in Pretoria.
Mongalo also played for the South African Under-21 team in 2006, when they lost to France in the Final.
After completing his studies, he started a marketing career and was temporarily lost to sport.
However, he was lured to the Lions by Nico Serfontein, who coached him as a junior in Pretoria.
"By that time I was itching," Mongalo told rugby365.
"I didn't enjoy the corporate thing and jumped at the opportunity [to join the Lions].
"Rugby offered me an opportunity to play and study, after school. I didn't have that opportunity with cricket."
It is almost time for Vodacom Super Rugby 2018. Watch Supersport on Friday 2 February for a behind the scenes look at the Emirates Lions' preparations in this special documentary, Amongst the Pride.#LetsUnite #TheLionsWay pic.twitter.com/FmQi5fSS7w— Emirates Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) February 1, 2018
Mongalo said he enjoyed his time working in the Lions structures - for eight years - with seasoned staff like Johan Ackermann and JP Ferreira.
"The Lions have a united coaching staff and whatever JP was coaching with the senior team, I was coaching with the juniors [Under-21 and Under-19] teams.
"We were running similar systems - similar calls, similar exits.
"The great thing, having taken over from him [Ferreira], a lot of the stuff has stayed the same.
"I would just add one- or two-percenters that are unique to the way I see the defence system working."
He said the Lions may "tweak" a few things when the season gets underway this weekend, but they will continue to play the well-established Lions' brand of rugby.
"The fundamentals are there," Mongalo said, adding: "This group cares about each other. The group will tackle for each other and work hard for each other.
"It is just about fine-tuning smaller things.
"The big machine is working,, it is running very well."
He may be diving in at the deep end, with his first season in Super Rugby, but Mongalo is as ready as a seasoned pro.
"I can't wait for 7pm [19.00] on Saturday, when the first game is done."
He said Ellis Park is a "special place" to make your Super Rugby debut/.
By Jan de Koning