Naka Drotske played at flank forward for South Africa Schools in 1992 but switched to hooker when he joined the Free State squad later that season, proving a dynamic cross between a tight and loose forward. He made his Springbok debut in the second test against Argentina in 1993, starting the match in his new position of hooker but switching to flanker later in the game. Interestingly, the great Springbok wing Chester Williams also made his debut the same day.
Naka narrowly missed out on selection to the 1995 World Cup Squad, with James Dalton and Chris Rossouw selected as the hookers, but was called-up when Dalton was suspended for being sent-off during the match with Canada. Drotske sat on the bench for the epic final, with Chris Rossouw playing in the No. 2 jersey; and Dalton returned as first choice Bok hooker the following season.
Naka earned a Springbok recall in 1997 and played in the first two tests against the British Lions. The Lions narrowly won the first test, even though the Springbok pack functioned well. In the second test Lion's locks Martin Johnson and Jeremy Davidson dominated the line-outs, and abysmal goal kicking by South Africa allowed the Lions to snatch a win and take an unassailable 2-0 series lead. Drotske was one of the players blamed and he was relegated to the bench for the final test, with Dalton returning. Dalton then held on to the No.2 jersey again for much of the Springboks record unbeaten 17-match run that ended in December 1998.
Drotske showed dynamic form for the Golden Cats in the 1999 Super 12 and this, coupled with an injury to Dalton, allowed him to finally establish himself as first-choice Springbok hooker, six years after making his debut. He maintained superb form to keep the position throughout South Africa's run to the semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup. Naka switched to the Blue Bulls in 2000 after many successful years at Free State Cheetahs and represented Northern Bulls in the Super 12.
He played three seasons for London Irish in the English Premiership, winning the Powergen Cup with them in 2002 and in 2002/03 he received the London Irish Players' Player of the Season as well as Supporters' Player of the Season Awards.
He returned to Free State Cheetahs in 2004 and representing the Cats in the Super 12. In a career highlight, Drotske was named ABSA Currie Cup Man of the Match when he captained the Cheetahs to a stunning 25-29 triumph in the 2005 final against the defending champions the Blue Bulls at their Loftus Versveld fortress. It was his last ever game for Free State and a wonderful send-off for Drotske the captain, as Free State claimed only their second Currie Cup title almost 30 years after their first one. Another career highlight was Naka's great try for the world famous Barbarians in their victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium in May 2001.
In all, Drotske played 26 tests for the Springboks, scoring 3 tries. He made an incredible 127 appearances for the Free State Cheetahs at Provincial level and earned 50 caps for the Cats in the Super 12. He was unfortunate in that his Springbok playing days clashed with James Dalton and was also unlucky to play much of his rugby at a time when the opportunities for bench players were not as frequent as they have become with relaxed substitution rules.
- Malcolm Finch