The Beast closes in on 100 caps

Spring­bok prop closes in on 100 Test cap mile­stone

Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - MIKE GREEN­AWAY

WAY back in 2004, Zim­bab­wean school Peter­house went on a rugby tour to South Africa. Among them was teenage Tendai Mtawarira, al­ready a large lad and a loose for­ward who caught the eye of a Sharks Academy scout, who saw him bul­ly­ing the op­po­si­tion and promptly of­fered him a rugby life­line in Dur­ban.

A year later, the Beast was resident in Dur­ban, wide-eyed and des­per­ately hun­gry to make a ca­reer out of rugby.

He was born with the phys­i­cal at­tributes and had a strong de­sire to take the op­por­tu­nity of mak­ing a de­cent life in South Africa, away from the lim­i­ta­tions in his home coun­try. It was a recipe for suc­cess.

In­ci­den­tally, his nick­name has been with him since pri­mary school and he earned it not be­cause of his size but be­cause of his play­ground bul­ly­ing.

He grew out of that child­hood phase and as an adult saves his bul­ly­ing for the rugby field – off the pitch he is a “gen­tle giant” per­son­i­fied.

At Kings Park, the Beast went from No 8 in the age group ranks to lock and then fi­nally loose­head prop. Then Sharks coach Dick Muir can take the credit for that one.

Hav­ing per­suaded the young­ster to set­tle down in the front row of the Na­tal Un­der 21 team, Muir then backed him­self by pick­ing Mtawarira in his Super Rugby team in 2007.

Just a year later, he made his in­ter­na­tional de­but when he came on as a sub­sti­tute against the Wal­la­bies in Perth, and the next year he sen­sa­tion­ally an­nounced his ar­rival on the in­ter­na­tional stage when he fa­mously de­stroyed Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions op­po­site num­ber Phil Vickery in the first Test at his beloved Kings Park.

Ten years af­ter his Spring­bok de­but, the present-day Beast is clos­ing in on 100 caps for his adopted coun­try, a re­mark­able achieve­ment for the kid from an un­der­priv­i­leged back­ground in an im­pov­er­ished coun­try.

His is 99 not out af­ter last week’s first Test against Eng­land and the ton beck­ons in Bloem­fontein on Satur­day. The mem­bers of the ex­clu­sive club he will be join­ing are all play­ers who played ma­jor roles in his pro­gres­sion as a Spring­bok – Vic­tor Mat­field (127), Bryan Ha­bana (124), John Smit (111), Jean de Vil­liers (109) and Percy Mont­gomery (98).

Now 32, he is gath­er­ing him- self for one last surge in his ca­reer, one that will take him past the 100 mark and to next year’s World Cup.

That is his stated goal and one that he will cer­tainly achieve if he stays in­jury-free.

He is in fine phys­i­cal shape and is in the form of his life, a prin­ci­pal tur­bine in an en­gine room that has been re­li­ably churn­ing out high-torque power for a decade. More­over, he has gone through tribu­la­tions that have deep­ened his char­ac­ter and strength­ened his re­solve.

In 2010, there was talk of him be­ing de­ported be­cause he did not have a South African pass­port. This was af­ter the Na­tional Assem­bly sports com­mit­tee ques­tioned why a Zim­bab­wean was play­ing for the Spring­boks.

It was an ex­tremely stress­ful pe­riod for Mtawarira but it was pos­i­tively re­solved af­ter a mad scram­ble even­tu­ally se­cured him South African ci­ti­zen­ship.

In 2012, the Beast got in touch with his mor­tal­ity when he suf­fered heart pal­pi­ta­tions while on tour in Dublin, and was rushed to hos­pi­tal. He was sta­bilised and then al­lowed to re­turn to South Africa where he un­der­went a pro­ce­dure that in­volved elec­tric cur­rent go­ing through his heart to cor­rect the prob­lem.

Now he is on the eve of mak­ing his­tory for a black rugby player in South Africa.

The mile­stone will firmly es­tab­lish him as a beacon of hope for the un­der­priv­i­leged across the coun­try. We have had Siya Kolisi awarded the cap­taincy of the Boks, a hugely sym­bolic act given the flanker has come from the most hum­ble of back­grounds to be the best in his po­si­tion in this coun­try.

Like any Beast worth his stuff, Mtawarira does not say much, but what he does com­mu­ni­cate in his bari­tone growls makes an im­pact.

“I am by no means con­tem­plat­ing re­tire­ment,” he told re­porters. “The World Cup next year is a huge goal of mine. Rassie is tak­ing us in the right di­rec­tion, I be­lieve, and I will work harder than ever to be at the World Cup.”

And given his un­remit­ting tenac­ity, there is no doubt that the Beast will be big in Ja­pan.

PIC­TURE: BACKPAGEPIX

CEN­TU­RION: Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira has amassed 99 Spring­bok Test caps since his de­but against Wales in 2008.

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