The Beast hits 50

2013-10-06 14:00

Mtawarira has given South African scrumming a fresher and nastier image, writes Khanyiso Tshwaku.

Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira is one of many Zimbabwe-born South African test rugby players and he will not be the last.

He is also the first foreign-born player to reach 50 caps for the Springboks, a milestone he attained during yesterday’s Rugby Championship clash against the All Blacks.

It is a journey that began with him switching from being loose forward to prop, a decision made for him by Dick Muir, who was at the time his coach at the Sharks.

Muir took pride in the fact that he gave the Beast his prop break, but put it down to Mtawarira’s work ethic.

“You’ll find a lot of rugby players who end up playing in the wrong positions and make those fine adjustments to further their careers.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think he would achieve so many caps.

“He may have played one or two provincial games at flank, but if he needed to go far in rugby, he would have to make a positional change,” Muir said.

“He tweaked his gym programme and the rest is history. His core strength pointed me in that direction (to play him as prop) but all the credit has to go to him. He really took on the change very well.”

At the Sharks academy, he used to cycle from Morningside, a suburb on a hill in Durban, to training and back.

The road to the Durban CBD is a lovely downhill cascade, which made for a challenging uphill crusade.

It explains the superhuman core strength that helps him hold his ground.

Mtawarira said: “The guys used to tease me about it, but I look back on it with fond memories because it reminds me of where I come from, when I did not have anything. I was just a young boy aspiring to play rugby at high levels.

“It was something that I enjoyed, though, and it made me stronger and fitter than my team-mates.”

His test career began with bullocking runs against a moderate Welsh side in 2008 at Loftus Versfeld Stadium under Peter de Villiers. The Boks won the match 37-21.

It wasn’t a polished performance for him at the scrums, but it served notice of what was to come against teams from the northern hemisphere.

These teams tend to bring the best out of the Beast, with many of the Springbok test victories in the scrumming coalface of Europe coming on the back of his broad shoulders.

It was at his Kings Park home ground in Durban, during the first test of the British and Irish Lions series in 2009, that he literally ended England prop Phil Vickery’s career.

In his prime, Vickery made feared Bok scrummagers and other props across the world look feeble on different types

of surfaces. But on that day in 2009, the “Cornish Rock” ran into a beast of a different breed.

A reserved Mtawarira smiled shyly when asked about his red-letter day in test rugby, but preferred to look on the collective successes of his career rather than an individual high water mark.

At age 28, it does not end there for him.

“There was never a significant moment where I could say I had arrived, but it is important to aspire to something and I’ve always aspired to get my 50th cap,” he said.

“I would want to achieve my 100th test for the Springboks and to build myself. I want to improve and get better as a player.”

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