WITH the Zimbabwe rugby team, the Sables, trailing 25-10 late in a 2015 IRB World Cup repechage qualification preliminary round fixture against Russia at the Central Stadium in Krasnoyarsk last year, speedy wing Tafadzwa Chitokwindo decided he would show the world what he was made of.
He nimbly broke through a congested first line of defence from an inside ball before accelerating round the last defender and had the pace to carry him over the whitewash near the corner.
The rugby fraternity stood in awe as the then 23-year-old ace carved an astonishing 90 metre try from deep inside the Zimbabwe half to give respectability to the score line.
Chitokwindo, popularly known as “Marabha”, has been a constant bright spark for the Zimbabwe Cheetahs and Sables since making his debut back in 2010 and he shares some of his memorable moments thus far.
“That 90 metre try against Russia was my first in that version of the game and is easily my best experience in rugby, especially with the Sables,” he told Standardsport.
“Also, playing at the Rugby Sevens World Cup for the Cheetahs in 2013 and being voted as the player of the tournament at the Hong Kong World Series core status qualifiers will be one of the highlights of my Sevens career.”
Born in September 1990, Chitokwindo dreams of becoming a rugby professional and to earn a living out of it, but at 25, time is fast running out for him.
“My goal has always been to turn pro where I can earn a living playing sport and although it has not happened yet, I am sure it is still attainable,” said the former Kyle College star.
Earlier this year in Hong Kong, the Cheetahs almost sneaked into the money-spinning HBSC World Series, leading Russia in the decider and going into the dying minutes but the Europeans stormed back with a last piece of action to deny the Zimbabweans.
A month ago the Zimbabwe Sevens team also missed out on the Rio Olympics qualification ticket to Kenya in similar fashion in South Africa.
Such moments have tempted the talented athlete to give up on the dream.
“By now we can consider ourselves the most unlucky rugby team in the world,” he said in jest. “Our rugby has been marked by a chain of near misses and personally it is frustrating to the extent that you think of quitting, but we keep soldiering on. We will surely come right one day,” Chitokwindo said. He believes that qualifying for the Sevens Rugby World Series would instantaneously change his life and that of his teammates in the Cheetahs team.
“Making it into the circuit will immediately turn all our Sevens players into professionals and it would mean everything if we actually did make it. We have shown that we are capable of doing it on several occasions. It’s just that we need the full backing of the corporates, the union and all the stakeholders,” he said.
What is interesting is that Chitokwindo was not a rugby lover as a kid. At Hillside Junior School in Bulawayo where he joined the sport, he played because everybody had to play rugby.
At high school he reckons he played rugby merely because of peer pressure.
“At high school soccer was my sport. All the teachers and my dad did not buy into the idea of me wanting to play rugby. I managed to play for Masvingo province Under-17s and 20s football teams which won the national championships back in 2008 as a right winger and sometimes as a striker,” he said.
“I found comfort in soccer because growing up in the high density areas chikweshe [paper football] was the most popular sport. I also found rugby too tough for my liking so at some point I quit the sport when I was in high school, but my friends convinced me to return,” he said.
He went to Victoria High School from Form 1 to 4 and then to Kyle College for Advanced Level where he got deeper into rugby and eventually accepted the fact that he was in fact a talented rugby player.
With speed and slippery skills, Chitokwindo made it into the Young Sables Under-18s for Craven Week in 2008, as well as the Under-19 team which later qualified for the Under-20 Junior World Rugby Trophy in Russia 2010.
He captained the Under-19 Sevens team which participated in the Safaricom tourney in Kenya as a junior.
The Sables debut came when Zimbabwe played against Kenya at Harare Sports Club in a dead rubber Victoria Cup fixture in 2010.
The same year Chitokwindo made his Cheetahs debut at the Dubai Sevens and he was voted Rookie of the Year by his local club Old Hararians after a brilliant show for Old Boys in the National Rugby League.
At Rhodes University where he studied for a Bachelor of Commerce (Economics and Management) degree in 2013, he scooped the Sportsperson of the Year award in his final year owing to his rugby prowess.
Chitokwindo has been an Old Hararian player since he completed high school but last season he played for German club TV Pforzeim Rugby Club.
Chitokwindo paid tribute to his parents for supporting his rugby endeavours. He is the first born in a family of three, where younger brother Obert has shown exceptional talent in the sport while little sister Tariro dominates in track events.
“My parents have been really supportive considering that at this level there is no income coming my way and yet they still support my aspirations in rugby,” he said.