HE is best known around the world for his breakneck speed which has seen him scoring numerous spectacular tries for Zimbabwe’s Sevens rugby team on the international stage, but Tafadzwa Chitokwindo is about as far removed from the archetypal sportsman as you can possibly get.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Here’s why. Besides being an immensely gifted rugby player, Chitokwindo, whose stock has been rising fast on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series circuit, is also an equally talented student in the classroom.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce (Economics and Management) degree at Rhodes University in 2013, Chitokwindo, who is nicknamed “MaRubber” due to his good sense of humour, is pursuing his second degree in Germany.
Barely 48 hours after starring for Zimbabwe at last weekend’s Dubai Sevens, the 28-year-old speedster was in a lecture room somewhere on the Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences campus in Germany sitting for an exam.
After writing his exam in southwestern Germany on Tuesday, Chitokwindo was expected to head to South Africa for the Cape Town Sevens, which started yesterday.
“I’m currently doing a Bachelor’s in Business Administration/Digital Enterprise Management, which is my second degree. I did my first degree at Rhodes University in South Africa, but I’m doing my second degree to complement the first one I did down in SA,” Chitokwindo told The Sports Hub in an interview on Tuesday.
The talented rugby star has had to strike a balance between his studies in Germany and representing his club TV Pforzheim and the Zimbabwe national Sevens side, affectionately known as the Cheetahs.
He did the same for his first degree while at Rhodes University in South Africa.
“It’s always hard to juggle both books and rugby because the same time you have to study is the same time you’re supposed to go to the gym or on the rugby field to train. So time management is key and it requires a lot of self-discipline. Sometimes I fail subjects, but how you get up from there determines or shows your character. So it hasn’t been all rosy, but I always manage to get up and keep moving forward.”
The never-say-die attitude has proved to be the major driving force in Chitokwindo’s rugby career where he has been the star of a Zimbabwe Sevens side, which continues to exceed expectations notwithstanding lack of financial support.
Despite poor preparations, the Cheetahs were in October crowned Africa Cup Sevens champions following a 17-5 triumph over Kenya in the final in Tunisia, which earned them a spot in three legs of the World Sevens Series this season in Dubai, Hong Kong and Cape Town.
The Cheetahs marked their first appearance at the World Series in Dubai last weekend with a commendable show against the top teams in the world, which won then a lot of admirers despite failing to register a win.
Chitokwindo was the star of the show for the Cheetahs after scoring four tries, including a brilliant individual effort against Samoa, which was featured as one of the tries of the tournament.
The former Victoria High and Kyle College student said he felt pressured to perform during the tournament after being featured by the game’s global governing body, World Rugby, on a promotional video as one of the players to watch at the Dubai Sevens.
“To be honest, I felt pressured to produce the results last weekend in Dubai after being featured as one of the players to watch by World Rugby bearing in mind that we were playing against the top 15 in the world in Sevens,” Chitokwindo said.
“They (World Rugby) expected me to do something amazing. I thought that this was just one of those moments when people just throw stones at you and see how you react, but come Sunday after the tournament I felt that I had achieved a lot. They had set expectations for me and I thought I performed to the expectations, so at the end of the day I was very happy with myself in terms of how I had played.”
In the end World Rugby were also in awe of Chitokwindo and Zimbabwe’s fighting performances, which they noted in their live commentary of the tournament on their official website.
“From the start of this tournament, Zimbabwe have shown themselves to be a great handful for every side that they’ve faced and Tafadzwa Chitokwindo has really stood up for them. He was a ‘One to Watch’ going into the tournament and has just shown footballing skills that Lionel Messi would be proud of.
His chip forwards came off his boot and even his shin before he calmly reached down and collected the ball to ground it,” World Rugby said after Zimbabwe’s final match against Wales.
Chitokwindo, whose goal is to represent Zimbabwe at the Olympic Games, reckons the Cheetahs are headed in the right direction after recovering from a dismal performance at the World Cup in June.
“I think we are moving forward and progressing very well given that in winter we went for the World Cup in the US and we didn’t do well. I feel managing to come back from that disappointment and winning the Africa Cup was a very good positive, but to then go to Dubai Sevens and put up a good show was even more amazing.”
He added: “I know we didn’t win any games, but the amount of pressure we put on the core teams on the HSBC World Sevens series is very encouraging. If someone was watching rugby for the first time, they wouldn’t even think that we are not professionals compared to the guys we were playing against, so I feel like as a group we are going somewhere, and somewhere very fast.”
In Dubai, Zimbabwe ended their campaign with a narrow 14-10 defeat to former world champions Wales in the 13th place semi-final playoff clash, which meant they finished last in the event alongside their continental rivals Kenya, who lost 26-19 to Japan in the other semi-final for 13th place.
Zimbabwe had earlier lost to Canada 35-8 in the Challenge Trophy quarter-final after losing all their Pool “A” matches against South Africa (31-0), Argentina (22-19) and Samoa (17-15).
The Cheetahs will be banking on Chitokwindo to continue leading from the front on the final day of the Cape Town Sevens today to set the tone ahead of a crucial 2019 season where they will seek to attain core status on the World Sevens series and qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.