A Rugby Festival Like No other
Harare – Its sponsors claim to be the biggest schools rugby festival in the world and this year it really exploded into a spectacular sporting jamboree that showcased the best of the emerging crop of players in Zimbabwe.
Two schools, St Martin’s of South Africa and Windhoek Technical High School (HTS) of Namibia, added a foreign flavour to the 2013 Cottco Schools Rugby Festival at Prince Edward, rated by Africa Almanac as the sixth best school in Africa, and for the first time in the history of this tournament, matches were held under floodlights.
The hosts Prince Edward and HTS brought the curtain down, on a largely successful schoolboy rugby bonanza, in the final match on Saturday with the Harare side powering their way to an impressive 22-7 victory to complete a very successful campaign for the Tigers who won all their matches.
HTS lost for the first time, on this tour, after having impressed in their first two matches by beating Petra 52-3 and Lomagundi 38-7.
The presence of special guest, Springbok prop Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira on Saturday, courtesy of sponsors Coca-Cola, provided a fitting closure to an explosive tournament that featured 184 schools, thousands of male and female rugby players, and attracted huge crowds throughout the week.
Mtawarira, who plays for the Natal Sharks in Super Rugby, is a product of the Cottco Schools Rugby Festival having played at the tournament as a 16-year-old and impressed, which virtually opened the doors for him to begin a journey that has turned him into one of the global rugby union icons.
Organisers of the 2013 Cottco Rugby Schools festival described it as a huge success story.
“It was a big success as we have managed to bring in several new schools on board,” tournament director, Sebastian Garikai told The Southern Times.
“We had two international schools, St Martin’s and Windhoek (Technical High School), who gave the locals some good competition.
“The introduction of floodlights at the Jubilee Field was a milestone achievement as we were able to hold some night matches.
“I was impressed by the girls’ teams, there was an increase in their numbers this year, and that is a very good development for our rugby and for the tournament.
“The introduction of anti-doping tests since last year has brought discipline to the kids who are now aware of the consequences of using performance-enhancing substances. I hope next year we will see more schools coming to take part in the festival.”
Garikai, who is also the sports director at Prince Edward, hailed the contribution of the sponsors.
“We appreciate the support we are getting from the corporate world and the festival has become a big event on the local rugby calendar,” he said.
“Everything went well and we had ‘The Beast’ Tendai Mtawarira, who came to share his story on his rugby career to inspire most of the up-and-coming players.
“Most rugby players did not know him and they were happy to see him.”
Mtawarira went to Churchill and Peterhouse ‑ two schools that are heavyweights at the Cottco Schools Rugby Festival ‑ and his appearance at the Jubilee Field on Saturday sent rugby fans into delirium.
It was just the perfect ending to a very successful tournament and ‘The Beast’ appeared to have been bowled over by the warm reception he received, from the school kids and rugby fans, on his latest homecoming tour.
“I feel awesome. It’s special, it brings a lot of memories,” Mtawarira said.
“I remember when I played Under-16 for Churchill on the B Field, it was very special and that’s when I made my name and started enjoying my rugby at the age of 16 and from there I never looked back.”
“It’s been in my heart for a long time, getting back to see Zimbabwe rugby and helping the youngsters to come through the system.
“There are not so many facilities for youngsters here to get groomed to professional rugby so it’s something that I have always wanted to focus on and I hope Coca-Cola have opened the door for me to come back and help out and get something going forward.
“Obviously, when I retire I need to settle and come back home and, obviously, by then I would have probably lined up myself with a couple of business.
“I want to get into business after I finish rugby as well as being a rugby ambassador for Zimbabwe so that will be a massive one.”
This was the 15th edition of the Cottco Rugby Schools Festival and it is set to be even bigger, and better, when it roars into life again next year.
“I think it has become more than a rugby festival in Zimbabwe but a huge part of the local sporting calendar and that it continues to grow, in numbers and status, is a tribute to the people who work tirelessly, sometimes on volunteer basis, to help this sporting showcase,” Shepherd Chiware, a leading Zimbabwean sports consultant said.
“I think what is needed now is to see the number of participating foreign teams increasing, that should be the target of the organisers to boost the foreign presence.”
There is no question, it appears, about the talent in this country. “I think the talent is vast and there is a lot of it here,” said Mtawarira.