THE top-notch feat by Zimbabwe-born former South Africa loose-head prop, Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira, early this week is as encouraging as it is inspiring.
Mtawarira was on Monday named in the World Rugby Team of the Decade for between 2010 and 2020 to confirm his status as one of the best players World Rugby has ever had.
The awards evening celebrated members of the rugby family who have provided outstanding service during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as players and teams who have starred over the last decade in a virtual show.
Although the bulky icon, who has since called time on his playing career spanning over a decade, elected to represent South Africa, Zimbabwe remained etched in his heart up to now.
That he has volunteered his services as the Destination Zimbabwe Ambassador with the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA), as well as the philanthropic work he does in his homeland, is testimony that he is a patriotic Zimbabwean.
The ZTA is in a massive drive pushing for synergies between sport and tourism and the coming on board of Mtawarira could not have happened at a better time.
In the field of play, Mtawarira’s heroics were at the heart of the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup success story in Yokohama, Japan, in November last year, in which South Africa powered to a 32-12 win over England in the final to claim their third World Cup title.
Not only has he been instrumental in helping the Springboks win the world crown, but his match-winning performances are too many to count both at club and national team level.
It was not surprising when he made his way to the exclusive Team of the Decade in association with Mastercard as part of the World Rugby Awards Special Edition on Monday evening.
Of course, another Zimbabwe-born former Australia flanker, David Pocock, also made the Team of the Decade.
Pocock was born 32 years ago in Gweru before moving to Australia.
Two other Boks, Bismarck du Plessis and Bryan Habana, also made the cut to reaffirm South Africa’s giants’ status in world rugby.
But it is “The Beast’s” story which the upcoming talent in Zimbabwe can learn a lot from.
Mtawarira’s rise to stardom was far from a walk in the park. He had to sweat it out, falling and getting up along the way until he attained the ultimate goal.
There are no short-cuts in sport generally and rugby, particularly as Mtawarira has shown.
That he is the biggest export that the country has produced is public knowledge, but it is the way he had to grind it out that should give aspiring stars of the game some valuable lessons.
And to be named in the World Rugby’s Team of the Decade was a befitting honour for Mtawarira, whose ball touches led to affectionate chants of “Beast” in stadia around the world.
He was a stand-out performer as the Boks beat England 32-12 to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy in Yokohama on November 2 last year, the last of his 117 Tests.
He won a number of scrum penalties on the loose-head side as South Africa dominated the set-piece to lay the platform for their third World Cup title. He has done that in other competitions too.
Mtawarira retired as the third most capped Bok behind former lock Victor Matfield (127 caps) and wing Habana (124). As well as being the most capped Springbok prop, the Beast is also the fifth most capped prop in the history of the game.
He won his first cap in 2008 and has the most appearances of any South African in Super Rugby with 159, all for the Durban-based Sharks.
Mtawarira started playing the game when he was still young and went through the rigorous academy system here in Zimbabwe together with others who, however, decided to quit along the way.
But for “The Beast”, quitting was no option and he decided to persevere. Rugby is a game that needs patience because of its nature.
Mtawarira had the patience to wait for his turn and at each turn, the chips appeared to be down on his side.
He decided to persevere even after suffering both physical and mental bruises along the way.
It was only after he got a chance to move to the South African academy system that he started to get the deserved recognition. But at one point, the same South Africans who are celebrating his success, had wanted to deport him back to Zimbabwe, arguing he was representing the Boks “illegally”.
It was one of the most depressing moments in his fledgling career, but he soldiered on until the situation was solved. Afterwards, he never disappointed in the Boks colours. Exactly 10 years after the talk about his deportation, Mtawarira was a proud winner of the World Cup.
And as for now, we can just have to take our hats off to Mtawarira for doing us all proud by being named in the World Rugby Team of the Decade. Well done son of the soil!