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As a number of countries celebrate the heroics of their sporting stars, who are illuminating the FIFA World Cup in Russia, rugby superstar Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira has been giving Zimbabweans a reason to smile with his historic exploits for the Springboks of South Africa.
The 32-year-old’s name has been trending around the world, written in bold gold-and-green colours, since he became the first prop, and black African, to clock 100 Test caps in rugby union in Bloemfontein on Saturday when the Boks beat England to win the series.
It’s a milestone that has only been reached by just a few of the game’s finest players and Mtawarira became only the sixth Springbok to feature in a century of Test matches.
And every time the Beast’s name has been mentioned, around the world, Zimbabwe’s productive rugby nurseries, which have provided the globe with some of its finest players over the years, have also been celebrated for their contribution to the game.
Only Victor Matfied (127 Tests), Bryan Habana (124 Tests), John Smith (111 Tests), Jean de Villiers (109 Tests) and Percy Montgomery (102 Tests) are the other players who have featured for the Boks in 100, or more Tests, in the history of the two-time World Champions.
Matfield helped the Boks won in his 100th Test with a 44-31 victory over Australia on August 28, 2010, Habana saw his 100th cap being marred by a 23-24 defeat against the same opponents in Perth on September 6, 2014, while de Villiers’s 100th cap came in a 10-14 defeat to the All Blacks of New Zealand in Wellington on September 13, 2014.
Montgomery’s 100th Test cap came in a 0-19 defeat of the Boks by the All Blacks in Cape Town on August 16, 2008.
Mtawarira’s 100th Test cap was in a 23-12 series-clinching victory against England last Saturday.
“We shouldn’t view the achievement in terms of colour. We should rather see it and celebrate it as something that inspires people from all walks of life.
“Beast winning 100 Test caps is an important story, one that all people in South Africa, and even those from countries around the world, can appreciate.”
And the Beast says the milestone isn’t about him alone.
“This milestone is bigger than one man,” he told SA Rugby Magazine.
“I didn’t come from a privileged background. I can relate to kids in similar situations who don’t have a lot of resources at their disposal.
“My message to them is simple: never let your circumstances dictate your future. Don’t let anything stop you, whether you want to be the next player to win 100 caps for the Boks or the next big doctor or pilot.
“Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.
“It’s not really about Beast getting to 100 caps. It’s broader than that. It’s about the next generation knowing they can achieve great things if they stick to their task.
“I desperately wanted to make it at the Sharks Academy, I was a hard worker and I was determined, but I never thought I would play one Test for the Boks, let alone 100. My biggest goal was to play Super Rugby for the Sharks.”
A family man, he credits the way his wife has also helped him along the way.
“I’m a Christian, my wife, Kuziva, has been at my side every step of this journey. She has nursed my wounds, the physical and the psychological ones, after the bad games. I’m grateful for that,” he said.
“I’ve had a tough time keeping her and my children (daughter Talumba and son Wangu) calm over the past few months.
“I’m not done with rugby just yet, though. I’d love to win a Super Rugby title with the Sharks. I’ve come close a couple of times (in 2007 and 2012).”
The Beast has started in 92 of the 100 Tests he has played for the Springboks and would have played more, if he had not been stopped for six months, in 2010, when he was threatened with deportation amid claims he didn’t qualify to play for the Boks.
“Beast will go down in history as a Bok who gave people hope, a Bok who never backed down from any challenge,” said teammate Bismarck du Plessis.
“He had to fight for this chance. He went through phases in his career where people, from sports writers to fans to coaches, said he wasn’t good enough. It made me mad to see that, because I know the quality of the man.
“Time and again, he’s hit back and shown everyone what a big heart he has.”