IN an era where almost every fledgling local rugby star aspires to follow in the footsteps of the likes of global stars such as Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira and David Pocock, who grew up in Zimbabwe before taking their talents elsewhere, it came as a surprise when Connor Pritchard opted to pursue his international rugby career with the Sables.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Born in Brisbane, Australia, before relocating to Zimbabwe at the age of two, Pritchard had all the attributes of a rugby union star in the making from an early age leading to fears he would consider switching allegiance to his country of birth.
His exceptional leadership skills and ability to lead from the front was also apparent from a tender age, captaining the Falcon College first team in his final year and going on to lead the Zimbabwe Under-18 Sevens rugby team, which won a bronze medal at the inaugural African Youth Games, held in Botswana four years ago.
Pritchard also led the Zimbabwe Under-19 side, which put on a spirited show on home soil during the World Rugby Under-20 Trophy in 2016.
Unlike most of his contemporaries who have gone on to switch allegiance to other countries even after playing for the country’s youth teams, Pritchard’s goal was always to play for the Sables.
His boundless passion and genuine concern for the wellbeing of rugby in Zimbabwe becomes clear when he explains the reason for his decision not to switch nationality.
“I was born in Brisbane, Australia, but moved over here to Zimbabwe when I was just two years old. I attended Victoria Falls primary school where my dad first introduced me to the game at the age of seven. From then, I fell in love with rugby, I continued to play it throughout school from Victoria Falls Primary School and later Falcon College, where after playing there throughout my junior years I captained the first team in my last year.
“Even though I was born in Australia, I believe I was brought up in Zimbabwe, therefore I am Zimbabwean,” 22 year old Pritchard told The Sports Hub in an exclusive interview on Friday.
“Although Zimbabwe hasn’t had the greatest of records in international rugby, I feel that our current generation has to be the one to change it. For me to come back and play for my country is a massive honour. I have always thought that playing for one’s country should be more about honour, national pride and commitment to the national cause than it is about playing for a bigger team,” he said.
“Obviously representing your country at any level is an amazing feeling and throughout the campaign of the Sables as well as the Cheetahs, I enjoyed every moment of it and I love playing this sport so much and it makes it even better. It was very intense, I enjoyed it a lot.
Pritchard — who keeps growing in stature every Test — emphatically proved his worth with his sterling exploits in the Sables’ back row during the just-ended Africa Gold Cup, which doubled as the qualifiers for the 2019 Rugby World Cup to be held in Japan.
In between, Pritchard also represented Zimbabwe Sevens side at the Rugby World Cup Sevens held in San Francisco, USA.
A monster at the breakdown, quick at inflicting turnovers Pritchard is also a physical player in contact, making a ton of tackles in defence while also doubling as a strong ball-carrier when going forward.
The talented loose forward was in superb form last Saturday, scoring the opening try of the match, which set the platform for the Sables’ emphatic 38-18 victory against Uganda in their final Africa Gold Cup match to avoid relegation to the second tier.
“I think I had a very good season this year. I did train very hard after breaking my jaw towards the end of last year and I’m pretty chuffed that this season went well for me,” Pritchard said.
“I think one of the main reasons why I had such a good season is because I trained so hard for it and also because of the fact that competing for your country should be the greatest feeling of all so i had the motivation behind me.”
He added: “I also really enjoyed working under Peter de Villiers; he’s just an amazing guy. Personally I think he is a very inspirational man and I look forward to working with him for many more years to come. His influence also impacted the team a lot in a motivational way and I believe we are on the right track,” he said.
Although disappointed with the team’s failure to qualify for next year’s Rugby World Cup, Pritchard believes the Sables can mount a serious challenge for the 2013 World Cup in France.
“It would have been amazing to go to the World Cup next year but I think what the boys have learnt that sometimes things don’t go your way and you have to deal with them head on.
Our team is still very young and our focus now is to maintain the momentum from our last match. We had a great last game against Uganda and I think we can take a lot from that game and continue moving forward and hopefully we will qualify for the 2023 World Cup.” Individually, Pritchard will continue pursuing his goal of breaking into the Super Rugby franchise Queensland Reds after some eye catching performances on the club scene in Australia.
Pritchard currently plays for Bond University Rugby Club, who compete in the nine-team Queensland Premier Rugby competition and a stepping stone to Super Rugby or other professional rugby competitions.
“I’m currently playing for Bond University in Australia. They play at Premier grade rugby, which is a level just below Super Rugby and the main goal that I have set for myself is to make the step up to the Super Rugby team the Reds. I hope everyone backs me and I will continue to work hard to achieve that goal,” he said.
Gold Coast District Rugby Union coach Graham Herlihy recently backed Pritchard backed to make the step up to the elite Super Rugby competition after storming start to his club rugby career in Australia.
“Anyone who sees him play, they are in awe,” he said in an interview with the Gold Coast Bulletin recently.
“He’s tough. He’s very hard on the ball and he’s a good runner of the ball … I’ll tell you now, he definitely will go to that next level.
“He is just an outstanding young bloke and an outstanding openside flanker. He has got a wonderful character too. He is destined to play much higher rugby. He needs to be at a Super (Rugby) club.”