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The ‘Beast’ unleashed on Super 14

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Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira, a 21-year-old Zimbabwean-born player, does not even feature in the official Super 14 media guide. It is almost as if he was brought into the tournament as an afterthought.

Now the affable young man’s name – or at least his nickname – is on most rugby pundits’ lips.

Mostly they would be asking: “Who is this ‘Beast’?”

They can be forgiven for not knowing much about Mtawarira, because before his first appearance on the Super 14 stage this year the young man had only played some Vodacom Cup rugby for the Natal Wildebeest. Before that it was only age-group rugby.

His first noteworthy act this year came in a Round Two match, when he came on as a replacement to face up to the Waratahs’ all-Wallaby front row of Benn Robinson, Adam Freier and Alastair Baxter.

As a loosehead prop his direct opponent was Wallaby veteran Baxter – who has 42 Test caps to his credit and more than 60 Super 14 appearances.

At first Mtawarira looked unsettled and struggling to cope with his more illustrious opponent’s awkward style. But in an instant it all changed. He suddenly shoved the veteran front row opponent backwards at a great rate and earned his team a scrum turnover.

The lasting memory of that scrum was the Beast getting congratulatory “high fives” from his teammates.

He had announced his arrival on the senior rugby scene in no uncertain terms.

Playing back-up to Springbok Deon Carstens in the Sharks team it is to be expected that he would only make appearances as a replacement, but for now Mtawarira is happy to continue learning his trade from a master.

Baxter would probably cringe at the thought, but in front row terms the 21-year-old Sharks prop is but an infant.

He played number eight all his life and was only converted to prop last year, with no more than about 10 Vodacom Cup games to his credit in the position.

By his own admission his technique is still flawed and he has a lot to learn, but in that one scrum he showed that in years to come he could be a household name in the game.

“I came on towards the end in the Waratahs game, but I enjoyed it very much,” Mtawarira said.

“I probably came on when the other guys were a bit tired, so I just finished them off,” he quipped.

“But for me that was a huge boost in confidence. I was going up against props that had played at international level. For me that was a big challenge, and to actually drive them backwards was an incredible feeling,” he added.

Mtawarira’s road to the Sharks front row took a few interesting turns along the way.

At the age of nine, growing up in Harare, he was playing soccer when a local rugby coach spotted his huge frame knocking the other children. He was convinced to take up the game of rugby, but he did not enjoy it immediately.

“My passion for rugby only really started when I went to highschool, at Peterhouse,” he said.

“It [rugby] was a bit rough for me at first and I got knocked a few times. But I learnt quickly and I got into it when I went to highschool, when I went to a strong rugby school.

“There [Peterhouse] as soon as you got into the school you had to try out for the rugby team. My size also helped me at the time, as I was a bit bigger than the other guys in my age group.”

It was also in Harare, during his primary school days, that he earned the nickname that is now his trademark – Beast.

“It comes from when I was about 10, my best friend gave me that nickname and it stuck with me all these years.

“I think I was a bit of a violent child, I was bigger than the rest and used my body against the other children and that’s how I earned the name Beast.

“But these days I’m very calm and I can now call myself a gentleman … now I’m a gentle beast,” he chuckled, before adding: “… but not on the field.”

It was while playing for Peterhouse that he was spotted by the Sharks’ academy staff and brought to Durban, where he continued playing at number eight.

“They only changed me to loosehead prop last year. I’ve played at number eight most of my rugby career,” he said, adding that even though he is new to the front row game he is now “enjoying it”.

Obviously he wouldn’t mind running around as a number eight again, because he just loves running with the ball.

“But for the team and the Sharks I’ll definitely stay at prop and give it 100 percent,” he said, adding that he will specialise in being a loosehead prop.

“I know it will take some time to master the art, but that’s where I’ll play,” he said.

He is certainly getting plenty of help from the Sharks’ two current Springboks – loosehead Deon Carstens, and tighthead BJ Botha – along with 1995 World Cup-winning Bok prop Balie Swart, now a scrum coach at the Sharks.

“Yes, they are all playing a part in getting me to understand the art of front row play. However, people can tell you to do this and that, but the only way you can really learn about playing prop is by training there and playing there.

“Every prop has a different technique which he uses and develops and that is how you learn,” he added.

He described his first season of Super Rugby as “a great experience”.

“Obviously the game is a lot faster than what I was used to, but it’s an amazing experience for me.

“The Sharks are doing so well [unbeaten in the Super 14] and we’ve got the winning culture now.”

Now, with a few more Super Rugby games under his belt, he is ready to tackle the Brumbies this week.

But it is what comes after this week that really excites the Beast.

“I’m looking forward to the Brumbies game, since it is going to be our last home game before we go overseas [a four-match tour of Australasia].

“We have to make sure we leave Durban on a high note.

“I’m very excited about the tour, because I’ve never been overseas. It’s an opportunity and I must use it. I’ve heard people say it is harder when you go overseas, but we just have to carry the momentum that we’ve got now overseas.”

By Jan de Koning

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