Cape Town - Thorough professional to the very last.
That label was pleasingly applicable to Tendai Mtawarira as the veteran Springbok, just two weeks on from being a World Cup winner, still managed to summon plenty of gusto for the Barbarians in their entertaining 33-31 defeat to Fiji on Saturday.
In what represented his final international (albeit non-Test status) match, the popular loose-head prop stayed on the Twickenham turf for just over an hour of admirable industry, fittingly at the widely branded “home of rugby”.
It came despite the distractions of the last fortnight, including the multi-city victory parades by the Webb Ellis Cup-clinching Boks and precious little time for the squad to unwind with family and friends since the superlative 32-12 downing of England in the RWC 2019 final at Yokohama.
Once again defying his status as a 34-year-old, the “Beast”, who had already signalled his step-down after 117 Tests for South Africa, threw himself about against the Pacific Islanders with the energy of a man 12 years his junior in the 10-try (five apiece) spectacle.
Although the scrum is seldom a major feature of festival-geared Baa-Baas matches, Mtawarira carried on where he had left off for so much of his stellar closing Test year with some powerful set-piece shoves against under-pressure Fijian tighthead Samuela Tawake, a raw 23-year-old who would have learnt plenty about the trade on the day.
Not long before he was substituted, at a time props frequently “rotate” anyway, the yeoman Sharks servant had made some 35 metres at speed to clean up a dangerously bouncing ball in broken play – just another example of his reluctance to give anything but sterling input to whichever cause he’s been representing.
He was also only deprived of the particularly happy event of a farewell personal try in the second half when belated re-examination of television footage - long after he’d been awarded a dot-down and was grinning like a delighted schoolboy - showed that the ball had just squirted out between his upper right arm and chest as he barrelled over the line.
The unassuming personality has only ever registered two tries in his lengthy Springbok career.
When he did, finally, exit the combat to appreciative applause from a healthy neutral crowd, renowned television commentator and former Welsh international Eddie Butler described Mtawarira as “one of the greats of the modern game” ... quickly upgrading his tribute to “a giant of any age”.
The front-ranker was warmly embraced by coach Eddie Jones and assistant John Mitchell, whose dreams of World Cup glory as England masterminds had been dashed by Mtawarira and the other inspiring Springboks extremely recently.
Despite the outcome in Fiji’s favour, it was also a good day for Durban-based Test colleagues of the big prop who will rue his absence for the Sharks next year in the form of predatory left wing Makazole Mapimpi, who notched two tries, and centre Andre Esterhuizen, who did much that was constructive on both attack and defence.
Mtawarira had played six of his Bok Tests at Twickenham, the first having been 11 years ago in 2008 against England when the side led by John Smit notched a handsome, record 42-6 triumph.
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