Zim players fly adopted flags at World Cup rugby
Robson Sharuko in Harare
ZIMBABWE might not be at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England but such is the country’s productivity, when it comes to talented players, four of her sons are taking part in the global showcase in the colours of different nations, including two-time champions South Africa.
Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, who is flying the Springboks’ flag as South Africa search for a third World Cup crown, is the latest in a long line of Zimbabweans who have donned the Boks’ colours in a period stretching for more than half a century since Salty du Rand blazed a trail by captaining the team.
Adrian Garvey, who played for Zimbabwe at the 1991 Rugby World Cup, featured for the Springboks in 28 Tests and, like Bobby Skinstad, who turned out for the Boks in 42 Tests, was born in Bulawayo.
Gary Teichmann played 42 Tests for the Boks and was captain between 1995 and 1999, scoring six tries at number eight, a Gweru boy who developed into the leader of the Springboks, following in the footsteps of Du Rand and Des Van Jaarveldt whose elevation to the captaincy, in 1960, caused a huge uproar in South Africa with one newspaper describing it as an “evil day” in the history of the game in that country.
Mtawarira, who is now 30, has spent the last seven years playing for the Springboks and was part of the team that played at the last Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
He was part of the Boks team that was humiliated by Japan, in their first World Cup game, a result that sent shock waves around the globe.
“We have to go back to the drawing board and fix the things that went wrong‚” Mtawarira said. “In parts of the game we showed what we could do but our discipline and defence let us down.”
And the Boks did just that as they beat Samoa to put their campaign back on track although it came at a huge cost with captain Jean de Villiers suffering an injury, which ruled him out of the tournament, as his World Cup jinx – which started at the 2003 World Cup – struck once again.
Injuries also haunted Mtawarira this year and there were questions whether he would be in prime shape to dominate opponents the way he has done in the past leading to fans calling him the Beast.
“I haven’t played the amount of rugby I wanted to because of injury. But I’m happy with the form I’ve shown on the field and I’m working hard,” Mtawarira told MyPlayers.
“Personally, I believe I’m improving as a player and I want to add value where possible. The road ahead of the World Cup is very exciting. We have great depth, and good players based in South Africa and overseas.
“Coach Heyneke (Meyer) started these World Cup preparations four years ago, so the tournament has always been at the back of our minds. Our plans are now becoming a reality.
“Chasing the World Cup trophy is the ultimate goal. We want to make South Africa proud.”
Another Zimbabwe-born star at the 2015 Rugby World Cup is David Pocock, who is now playing for Australia, and was the stand-out player when the Wallabies got their campaign underway with a 28-13 win over Fiji, scoring two tries in that victory.
“It was good. It was everything we expected; tough, physical, they threw the ball around a lot,” Pocock said.
“There were some really pleasing aspects of our game, but also plenty to work on which is what you expect in your first game, but good to get the win. The credit goes to the big guys up front who lay the platform there, but it’s something we’ve been working on and it’s good to see a couple of tries.”
Pocock is playing an number eight, the position that his idol and countryman, Skinstad, also played for the Springboks and, in the countdown to this World Cup, he said he needed some advice from the Boks legend.
“I’d love a bit of advice (from Skinstad),” Pocock told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“I was always a big fan, my coach at school hated it because I’d try to carry the ball in one hand, but I didn’t have hands as big as Bobby at the time.
“I think my game has changed (in the last four years). I’ve worked on a lot of attacking stuff with the Brumbies and I think I’m better for the experience of injuries and getting through that.
“There’s no one better to learn from than Bernie (Larkham] and (coach Michael Cheika) played his whole career at No.8 so there’s plenty of knowledge there. I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can.”
Like Mtawarira, he also has had to bounce back from injuries that have stalked him in the countdown to the World Cup, twice rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee he was even a doubt, at some point, for the showcase.
“After the second (injury) … such an innocuous step, after that there were a few doubts,” Pocock said.
“But the way to deal with them is working hard and I thought if I could get my body right, I could play some good rugby again.
“It’s important to look back to appreciate how much help I’ve had along the way … You appreciate how much hard work has gone in and make the most of the opportunity you’ve got.”
Takudzwa Ngwenya, who is playing for the United States in this World Cup, and David Denton, a back row star for Scotland, are the other two Zimbabwe-born players who are flying the flags of their adopted nations at the 2015 Rugby World Cup showcase in England.
Denton, who is just 25, the youngest of the Zimbabwe-born quartet, has a Zimbabwean father and a Scottish mother and used his mum’s roots to qualify to play for Scotland. The Scottish had a poor Six Nations but Denton still was brave enough to say that they would bounce back and, in familiar territory in England, could even go all the way and win the Rugby World Cup.
They started their campaign with a victory over the Japanese side that shocked the Springboks and Denton felt their performance, laced with a bonus point, represented an improvement.
“Thanks all for the messages. Great to get a bonus point win. On to the next one. One game at a time #RWC2015,” he tweeted. “If anything, it was an improvement. Great to get a good win yesterday.”
And he even believes they can win the tournament.
“Our first goal is to get out of our pool and then give ourselves every chance of winning the World Cup,” he told the BBC.
“We never change – we’re in this sport to win. We’ve got a tough pool, we’ve got tough games particularly against South Africa and Samoa that we need to make sure we perform well in and it’s a pool I think we can do well in, then you get the favourable quarter final and you move on from there.”