Makazole Mapimpi has overcome unique challenges as wing looks to lead South Africa charge

South Africa wing Makazole Mapimpi has put family tragedy behind him to top the try-scoring charts at this World Cup.

It is a remarkable rise from his impoverished background on the Eastern Cape especially given the personal blows he has taken along the way.

Mapimpi lost his mum in a car accident, his sister to a brain illness and his brother, who was electrocuted attempting to steal power cables.

Yet he believes he would not have become a Springbok at all if it had not been for the loss of his mum and sister.

“Both my mum and sister were opposed to me playing rugby because they felt I wouldn’t gain anything from it, so they would have insisted that I get an education or a job,” he said.

“Obviously, I’m not saying it’s a good thing they’re not here but their absence has toughened me up to be here and left me feeling like my presence here is God’s plan.”

The 29-year-old Sharks speedster, who made a belated Test debut against Wales in Washington DC 16 months ago, sits alongside Wales’s Josh Adams and Japan’s Kotaro Matsushima on five tries having taken his strike rate to 13 in just 12 Tests.

The finishing has caught the attention but it is the development of the other parts of his game which has delighted South Africa’s attack coach Mzwandile Stick given the start he had in rugby.

“He comes from a rural area in the Eastern Cape, a place called Tsholomnqa. As a youngster, he would walk 10 kilometres a day to school. That is the background he comes from,” said Stick.

“In the rural areas, if you kick a rugby ball, the coach will take you off the field. You are not allowed to kick. You are supposed to run and catch, that’s all.

“So, he was never exposed to a game where there was kicking and aerial skills and stuff.

“When we invited him to our camp last year, we knew what we were dealing with and just wanted to make sure we give him the best possible support to improve his game.

“I am happy with where Makazole is at the moment. He still has room for improvement, but with the players around him, I see him going far.

“He was always very fit, very dedicated to what he wanted to achieve.

“It’s a nice story to tell youngsters. Irrespective of your background, if you really work hard, and your opportunity comes, you need to be ready.”

South Africa take on Wales in their World Cup semi-final showdown at 9am UK time on Sunday.