Sport24 asked: Have you embraced a leadership role as a senior Sharks player?
Beast Mtawarira: I still see myself as being fairly young in terms of age but, as far as experience is concerned, I’m now into my 11th season of Super Rugby with the Sharks. It’s a great privilege to be one of the leaders in the side. I try to pave the way for the younger players and show them what it takes to play the game at the highest level. The lessons I pass on to the younger crop are about being disciplined, headstrong and making sure that you don’t get overwhelmed by the moment. Many of the younger players in our team are only playing in their first or second season of Super Rugby. As such, they can get a bit overwhelmed by the challenge of those we are facing at times. However, what they lack in experience they make up for with energy and enthusiasm. I have told my team-mates that the key is to remain calm and trust in the systems that we have been training this whole season. It’s a great honour to be part of the environment we have cultivated at the Sharks. Coach Robert (du Preez) has brought back the true Sharks culture – we have traditionally played an exciting brand of rugby - and we have rediscovered our identity, which we lacked in the last couple of years. As a former Sharks players himself, Robert knows exactly what is needed to be part of the Sharks culture. He has really been driving it from the off-season and everybody wants to contribute to the brand and ensure that we establish ourselves as a force in the rugby world. Our coach has brought back the mentality of getting the ball, working through the phases and enjoying our rugby. As rugby players growing up, we always dreamed of running with the ball and showing off our skills. I feel that Robert has really brought the excitement and enjoyment factor back to Durban. And with an emphasis on a ball-in-hand game comes an increased amount of fitness work. We were really put through our paces during the pre-season to ensure that we are fit enough to play at a high level of intensity for 80 minutes. It’s something that we want to keep improving as the season progresses.
Sport24 asked: The Sharks have won five from eight matches this term. Your assessment?
Beast Mtawarira: For us, it’s definitely not good enough and we have certainly not yet reached our full potential. As a team collective, it’s about ensuring that we stay grounded and constantly improve as a unit. We have already set ourselves goals for the next couple of weeks and our aim is to execute the plan. Coach Rob has divided our Super Rugby campaign into different phases and we are now in the midst of the third phase of the competition, so we really need to step up a gear. Every player in their position needs to take accountability and improve. I believe even one percent improvements from each player can really take us further on into the competition because it will have a cumulative effect. You have to ensure that you perform and give it your all every time you get to pull on the Sharks jumper. It’s part of the culture we have created, and our intention each and every week is to play to the ultimate of our abilities and make our loyal supporter base proud. Moreover, internal competition always brings out the best in the players. Owing to the stiff competition for places at the Sharks, as players we are fully aware that we can’t relax and take our opportunities for granted.
Sport24 asked: Are the New Zealand franchises the front-runners after nine rounds?
Beast Mtawarira: I believe it’s important not to put the New Zealand teams on a pedestal because we are all fighting to be the best. South African sides have been producing the goods this season and, as such, I wouldn’t call the New Zealand sides the best thus far. The fact of the matter is that everyone has stepped up their game this term and I believe that our local sides have really been playing well. The SA sides are hungry to prove a point and are working hard to get back on top. I certainly have respect for the New Zealand teams, however, the toughest matches I have been involved in or watched this season have been South African derbies. The Lions and Stormers have been performing well this season and facing them will probably prove our toughest challenges.
Sport24 asked: How impressed have you been with boy wonder Curwin Bosch?
Beast Mtawarira: I heard that former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers said that “Curwin will bring South African rugby fans so much joy over the next decade.” I certainly agree with those sentiments. Curwin is an exciting youngster. The 19-year-old is versatile - he can play at both flyhalf and fullback and has the X-factor. I believe he is going to continue to grow and, as we have seen already, he has improved significantly from last season. He is definitely going to be playing for the Springboks soon and contributing to the success of South African rugby. He boasts so much maturity for someone who is still only a teenager. I enjoy playing with him and I can’t wait to see what his future holds.
Sport24 asked: Which black front rowers have left you with a lasting impression?
Beast Mtawarira: I have been really impressed with Ox Nche from the Cheetahs and Lizo Gqoboka of the Bulls. Lizo is one of the most talented front rankers I have ever met. He is also a great guy off the field and has his feet firmly on the ground. Meanwhile, Ox was in strong form in the last Currie Cup campaign and he has continued in that vein in Super Rugby this season. I believe both props are only going to get better with time. I see the pair being stalwarts in the Springbok squad in years to come.
Sport24 asked: Will you head abroad once your tripartite agreement expires?
Beast Mtawarira: First and foremost, I’m signed with the Sharks and Springboks until 2019. I am thoroughly enjoying playing for the Sharks and my roots are firmly planted in South Africa for the foreseeable future. I want to contribute to the Sharks and Springboks in order for them to be on top again, and I would love to be part of a winning a Rugby World Cup having missed out on the trophy twice. I would like to play in Durban for as long as possible because I enjoy the environment and the company of my team-mates. However, towards the latter stage of my professional playing career, I would love to go and have an experience up north. France is an attractive place for my playing career and my young family. It would be my destination of choice. I feel that a stint in France would allow me to develop further as a front ranker. I would get to play against some of the world's toughest front rowers in Europe, which would prove a great experience. I would also get to learn much more about the game in foreign conditions and I’ve seen how players go there and come back better. Off the field, my family and I would have the chance to travel. However, for at least the next three years, my focus is on contributing to the success of SA rugby both provincially and nationally.
Sport24 asked: Three dream celebrity guests over for dinner. Who would you invite?
Beast Mtawarira: The first dinner guest I would invite would be LeBron James. I am a big fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers and he is my favourite basketball player of all time. Next to crack the nod would be Serena Williams. I think Serena is a beast on the tennis court and she stands for everything that I want to be as an athlete. Her determination and will to win really resonates with me. My third guest would be American Football star Tom Brady. The 39-year-old has achieved so much in the NFL and is arguably the best quarterback of all time. You don’t get too many NFL players who are humble, but Brady has shown great humility despite having achieved so much in his career. Meeting him would be the best thing ever. On the menu would be steak and pap accompanied by chakalaka to give my American guests a taste of Africa. And the late Biggie Smalls’ rap would be the evening’s soundtrack.
Previous Q&A chats:Rohan Janse van Rensburg