God save our bullish Beast

Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor

AT some point tomorrow morning, the globe will be treated to a rousing rendition of ‘‘God Save Our Queen,’’ before England line up to battle the Springboks of South Africa in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final at the Yokohama Stadium in Japan.

It’s the grand stage, where many had expected to see the haka, but England’s destruction of the All Blacks in the semi-finals ensured New Zealand are not in Yokohama tomorrow chasing an historic hat-trick of Rugby World Cup titles. Instead, it’s the Springboks who stand on the threshold of a third World Cup crown – as if they are fated to win one every dozen years since they first captured the title at Ellis Park in 1995 in that triumph which some claim helped unite a Rainbow Nation just emerging from a messy and divisive past.

President Nelson Mandela’s tricky, but ultimately brilliant decision, to publicly back the Boks, until then seen as the toxic sporting branch of the white supremacists who had enacted the brutality of apartheid until its walls came crashing down and ushered in democratic rule in South Africa, proved a masterstroke.

His decision to wear the Number 6 jersey of the then Springboks skipper, Francois Pienaar, during the final and stand side-by-side the triumphant captain as he lifted the World Cup trophy, is widely celebrated as a milestone moment in helping black South Africans embrace the team as representative of their country.

It remains an iconic moment, frozen in time, which many rugby observers, in particular, and those who had feared South Africa could collapse under the weight of the baggage of its toxic race relations, still believe, and celebrate, as the one that changed everything.

‘‘It will forever remain the single most iconic image in the history of Rugby World Cups and, perhaps, the game itself,’’ Gerry Thornley wrote in the Irish Times six days ago.

‘‘Nelson Mandela handing over the William Webb Ellis trophy to Francois Pienaar, while wearing a replica Springboks jersey, transcended sport in a way that no other rugby moment achieved.

‘‘Through the generosity of spirit and wisdom of one man, and the deeds of the Springboks, South Africa’s 1995 World Cup triumph on home soil helped to heal some of the country’s wounds and unite it to, at least, some degree.’’

A dozen years after that ’95 historic triumph, when they beat the All Blacks in the final, the Boks returned to the World Cup final in Paris in 2007 and beat England for their second global title. Another 12 years down the line, they find themselves in another final tomorrow in Yokohama where they take on familiar opponents, the English, for the right to be called world champions.

And, that means listening to another rousing rendition of ‘’God Save The Queen,’’ just before the battle explodes. Standing in the Springboks corner tomorrow will be Tendai ‘’Beast’’ Mtawarira, the 34-year-old record-breaking Boks prop, who was born in Zimbabwe, and went to Churchill and Peterhouse Schools before being snatched by the South Africans.

Since making his debut for the Boks on June 14, 2008, against Wales in Pretoria, the Beast has featured in 116 Tests, made 101 starts, scored 10 points, from two tries, won 73 of the matches, lost 38 and drawn five for a 65.08% success rate. He has made 16 appearances for the Boks at the World Cup, started in 13, scored a try, won 13 and lost only three for an impressive success rate of 81.25%.

Mtawarira has also featured in 53 Rugby Championships, making 46 starts, winning 26 games, losing 23 and drawing four for a success rate of 52.83%. There has been a lot of gamesmanship and, this week, England were fined £2 000 for their V-shape response to the All Blacks’ intense haka when some of the English players crossed the halfway line as the New Zealanders did their pre-game war dance.

“England have been fined for a breach of World Cup 2019 rules relating to cultural challenges, which states that no players from the team receiving the challenge may advance beyond the halfway line,’’ World Rugby said in a statement. That should also provide us with a bit of freedom to try and gatecrash the party at the Yokohama Stadium tomorrow because, after all, the rules have been violated by the very English who now take on the Boks.

Since the Zimbabwean anthem will not be heard at the Yokohama Stadium tomorrow, with the Beast being represented by the South African anthem, we have come up with our own tune to celebrate this country’s contribution to what should be a titanic battle tomorrow.

So, it’s a celebration of everything he has done during his marathon 116 Test caps for the Boks, which makes him the fifth most-capped prop behind Welshman Gethin Jenkins (134), Italian Martin Castrogiovanni (119), Englishman Jason Leonard (119) and All Black Tony Woodcock (118).

What we have done is simply change the lyrics of England’s ‘’God Save The Queen’’ anthem to celebrate the part the Beast has played in helping the Boks power into another Rugby World Cup final, especially given the buzz some are saying this could be Mtawarira’s last appearance in the iconic green-and-gold jersey.

‘‘God save our Indomitable Beast,

Long live our all-conquering Beast,

God save the Beast!

Send him victorious,

Happy and glorious,

Long to reign over the world,

God save the Beast!

From every tough opponent,

From the Englishmen’s blows,

God save the Beast,

Over his thine arm extend,

For the Boks’ sake defend,

Our brother, their prince, and friend,

God save the Beast!

And ever give us cause,

To sing with heart and voice,

God save our Indomitable Beast!’’

As Mtawarira stands on the threshold of greatness tomorrow, it’s hard to imagine that all this could have ended differently when, just two years after making his Springboks debut, he was almost deported back to Zimbabwe.

Since he was born and raised in Harare, there were some within the South African system who wanted him out of the Boks set-up saying he didn’t qualify to represent their country.

It put his international career on hold for about six months while he waited for authorities to sort out the issue. Now, if he and his teammates can clear the final hurdle, the Beast would have sealed his place in history – either side of the Limpopo River.

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