JOHANNESBURG. — From the day he bawled like a newborn baby when singing the national anthem ahead of his Test rugby debut against Wales in June 2008, the Zimbabwe-born Tendai Mtawarira has bled green and gold, to the point of being a permanent fixture in the Springbok team.
This culminated in his becoming the first Bok prop to earn 100 international caps, the sixth South African and the first black African to do so. Here are five things that contributed to the man simply known in world rugby as Beeeaaast being, well, a beast.
Becoming a prop took some convincing
Dick Muir, the Sharks’ former head coach who’s back as assistant coach this year, tells the wonderful story of why and how Mtawarira was sold the idea of moving from loose forward to prop in 2006.
“It was quite a simple thing for me – he was an incredible athlete who was incredibly strong. But he wasn’t quite fast enough for a loose forward or tall enough for a lock, so the front row was the only place he could go if he wanted to make a career out of rugby.”
Mtawarira did not receive the news well.
“But he’s such a polite guy, he agreed, even though he clearly wasn’t convinced. I asked him to try it out at Berea Rovers, where [former Sharks assistant coach] Sean Everitt was coach, and he didn’t turn up. When I asked him, he lied to me and told me it was tough.
“That’s when I tore up his contract right in front of him and threw it in the dustbin, replacing it with a three-year agreement paying him twice what he was on. I told him: ‘If you want to go elsewhere, you can go, but this three-year contract says I’m backing you to do it.’”
Not afraid of hard work
Former Springbok captain and Sharks hooker John Smit says Mtawarira may not have been enamoured when told his future lay at prop, but once he bought into it, he worked tirelessly at it.
“When he realised there was potential for something bigger, the guy trained hard. We used to joke about it, but I’d never seen a guy work that hard. We’d go on tour and he’d eat everybody else’s food and train, and he got himself big and strong and into the shape of a prop.