FNB Maties tighthead prop Matimu 'Ganji' Manganyi is set to go up against former teammate, FNB NWU Eagles loosehead prop Botter Moloto, for the first time on Tuesday night.
The teams will meet in a highly-anticipated Round 5 clash at Tuks Stadium (19:00 kick-off, SuperSport Rugby channel 211).
The players' friendship dates back to primary school, where they both attended Laerskool Pietersburg Noord in Polokwane. Manganyi (23), who is a year younger than Moloto, has looked up to him since he was part of the school's U10 'Dream Team'.
The two attended their first rugby trial together when Moloto was in Grade 7 and Manganyi in Grade 6.
Manganyi says he really wanted to play for the 1st XV.
"Everyone had a nickname, while I was still called by my [given] name, so I wanted to make the 1st XV to get a really cool nickname," he explains to VarsityCup.co.za.
The best friends have been big fans of each other from early on. Manganyi admires Moloto's offloading ability, while Manganyi's athleticism impresses Moloto.
"Ganji has always been a superstar," says Moloto. "He always scored long-distance tries and you would always hear people saying that he had a great game."
The duo went their separate ways after primary school as Moloto attended Hoërskool Pietersburg and Hoërskool Ben Vorster welcomed Manganyi. They never got to play against each other in high school, but they did pack down in the front row together at North-West University.
While in matric, Manganyi asked Moloto, who was at NWU, where he went to gym, so he could sign up with the hope of gaining muscle and looking like him by the time he reached university.
“Our relationship grew when we both got to university," says Moloto.
"Even though we were both playing prop, we were very supportive of each other. We both wanted to be successful so we helped and encouraged each other, and gave each other pointers.”
Luckily for them, the only rivalry they had while staying in the same house at the Puk Dorp Men’s Residence for two years was playing Fifa, NBA or NFL on PlayStation.
“We cooked, played games and went to church together," says Manganyi. "During pre-season, we would eat together in the kitchen and talk about what happened during the day – those were our decompression sessions.
“There were tough times, but I always knew that Botter would sort me out," he adds. "I knew he would pull through for me and vice versa. We always took care of each other and that’s what makes this friendship so special.”
Manganyi was initially a loosehead and Moloto a tighthead, but after struggling during a match for the Leopards U21s, Manganyi suggested that they switch positions mid-game. It must have worked as they have played those positions ever since.
The last time they played together was for the senior Leopards team in 2019, when they both ended the game on the bench nursing serious injuries.
However, on Tuesday night, when the FNB NWU Eagles take on FNB Maties, they will go head-to-head for the first time.
“This match will show how much we have impacted each other’s lives over the years," says Manganyi. "This match is basically it for us, we may not get another chance to play against each other. It’s difficult to build relationships that last, so this will be a story to tell.”
“We will talk about this game for years to come," says Moloto. "When we have kids, we’ll tell them who had the last laugh!"
“When we were previously on the field together, it was a case of 'me versus you', and I think that’s the mentality we have going into this game," he adds.
"The jersey you’re wearing, that’s who you’re representing. Friendship can come after the game – off the field, we’re brothers again.”
Photos: Supplied/Christiaan Kotze/Catherine Kotze/Varsity Cup