The Beast closes in on 100 caps
Springbok prop closes in on 100 Test cap milestone
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.
CENTURION: Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira has amassed 99 Springbok Test caps since his debut against Wales in 2008.