ENCOURAGED by the new sense of optimism characterising Zimbabwean rugby since the appointment of former Springboks coach Peter de Villiers, France-based Zimbabwe international Farai Mudariki has become one of the first foreign-based stars to put his hand up for selection ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup qualifiers, which get underway in June.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The 22-year-old dynamic tight head prop is one of several high-profile players plying their trade abroad targeted by de Villiers as he looks to build a strong squad ahead of this year’s crucial Gold Cup (formerly Africa Cup), which also serves as a qualifier for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Mudariki is slowly establishing himself in the French third division (Fédérale 1) with Stado Tarbes Pyrenees Rugby, a club he joined three months ago after a two-year stay at Castres Espoirs, the Youth Academy side of four-time French champions Castres Olympique Rugby.
The big front rower, who is the younger brother of Zimbabwe Sevens captain and Sables scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki, was part of the Sables squad that almost qualified for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England and is eager to help Zimbabwe’s national side qualify for its first World Cup in 28 years.
Mudariki believes Zimbabwean rugby could be on the threshold of something special after years of disappointment, citing the similarities between the positive vibe in the domestic game with the general mood of the country, which he says could be a catalyst to success.
“I think one can draw similarities between Zimbabwe rugby and Zimbabwe as a nation. The two are in very similar phases,” Mudariki told The Sports Hub in an exclusive interview from his French base on Wednesday.
“There is new-found hope for our beloved sport and I think the appointment of PDV (Peter de Villiers) shows the intent of our ZRU (Zimbabwe Rugby Union) leadership,” he said.
Mudariki said he was relishing the prospect of playing under the well-respected South African tactician and former Sables head coach Brendan Dawson, who bounced back into the national team’s technical department as de Villiers’ assistant.
Dawson handed Mudariki his first Sables cap in the 2014 Africa Cup competition, which served as the qualifiers for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, scoring a brilliant try on his debut against Madagascar.
While his first introduction to international rugby ended in disappointment after Zimbabwe narrowly missed out on the automatic ticket to the World Cup, Mudariki has high hopes this time around.
“I can’t wait to work with PDV if afforded the opportunity, his record speaks for itself and as they say ‘numbers don’t lie’. It will also be great to see Dawsie (Dawson) back in the fold, I had a great time working with him last time around. I have put my hand up and would love to be involved,” he said.
“I think going in to our preparations we obviously want to qualify for 2019, but we should go in thinking long-term as well. Zimbabwe has a lot of talent and with all the work being put in behind the scenes, I’m sure Zimbabwe will have its best players available for these qualifiers, hence why there will be a great sense of positivity going in to the qualifiers.”
Mudariki’s power, speed, scrummaging abilities and ball-carrying skills are expected to be a major asset for de Villiers’ forwards pack, which will be marshalled by veteran skipper and loosehead prop Denford Mutamangira.
The former Zimbabwe Under-20 captain and Michaelhouse College pupil also opened up for the first time about his move to Stado Tarbes Pyrenees Rugby from the Castres Olympique Rugby Academy and his goal of playing in the lucrative Top 14.
“It’s been easy to fit right in with how things are done at Tarbes, they play in the Federal 1 Elite, which is France’s 3rd Division and I would say it is not far off Pro D2 (the second division of domestic club rugby union in France),” he said.
“I came here to try and get as much first team rugby as possible as a part of my development. It’s been tough not getting as much game time as I would’ve liked, but hard work does pay off and I just need to keep trusting the process. Going forward, I would like to establish myself in the Federal 1 Elite competition then keep moving forward and reach the Top 14.”
Mudariki tipped his side to secure promotion to the Pro D2 after reaching the Federal 1 playoffs.
“I would also go as far as to say the current Tarbes squad at the moment would only need about five signings in key positions to compete in ProD2, so the gap is not that big. It is a bit of a jump from Espoirs and the guys are a lot bigger and the game speed compared to Espoirs is pretty much the same, it’s a quick style of rugby. We’ve qualified for the playoffs to try to gain promotion to ProD2, which is our main focus and goal. Hopefully, I can help the team achieve this come the end of the season,” he said.