IT’S been barely four years since Brian Nyaude first picked up a rugby ball, but he’s already established himself as an integral member of the Zimbabwe senior national rugby side, the Sables, while making a name for himself abroad after successful stints in South Africa, Germany and most recently in Portugal.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The 22-year-old former Prince Edward School student looked destined to pursue a career in basketball having featured for the Zimbabwe Under-20 side at the 2014 African Union Sports Council Region 5 Under-20 Games held in Bulawayo.
Blessed with height (he’s 1,94 metres tall), speed, strength and agility, Nyaude was one of the stars of the Prince Edward Panthers basketball side which had dominated local schools basketball before enjoying similar success on tours to South Africa and Canada.
A career in basketball looked the obvious choice for Nyaude, but everything changed when he was presented with an opportunity to try out for the Prince Edward Tigers rugby side by the school’s then sports director Sebastain Garikai.
“I first got introduced to rugby in 2014 when I was in lower six at Prince Edward. The Tigers team manager at the time Sebastain Garikai just came to me during the off-season break for basketball and asked me if I would be interested to try out for the team. Because rugby was the main sport at PE I had to say, yes,” Nyaude told The Sports Hub in an exclusive interview.
The thought of being a member of the famous Tigers side, and earning the respect that comes with being part of the school’s rugby team proved too much to resist for Nyaude, who would go on to play his first match for the second team barely a week later.
“I wanted to be one of the big boys and if I remember well, I was training with the Tigers for a week and played my first rugby match for the second team against St George’s,” he said.
“I didn’t really know a lot about the sport at that time and the coach just kind of took me through all the basics like how I was not supposed to pass the ball forward and the offside line and told me how I would be playing number four and needed to jump during the line-out.”
Within a few months after being introduced to the game, Nyaude was representing the country again, but this time it was in rugby and not basketball.
He was part of the Zimbabwe Under-20 side which took part in the World Rugby Under-20 Trophy qualifiers in Namibia.
The squad, which was coached by Nsikelelo “Sykes” Sibanda, featured a number of talented players such New Zealand-based loose forward Shepherd Mhembere and Sables prop Farai Mudariki, who is now playing for English Premiership side Worcester.
“It was a really good experience for me and more special for me because it came a few months after my first introduction to the sport. It kind of opened my eyes about where I want to go, what I should do to get there, to where I want to be. The level was totally different from schoolboy rugby, the rugby had become a bit quicker and more physical, but it was definitely something I needed at the time. It kind of pushed me and gave me the direction on what to take like going to the gym, get bigger, get fitter and get stronger,” he said.
Although Zimbabwe failed to qualify for the 2015 World Rugby Under-20 Trophy held in Portugal, Nyaude’s performances in the Junior Sables’ second row were good enough to attract the attention of the Pretoria-based Naka Bulls Rugby Club.
“That’s where I learnt a lot about rugby, the technical side of the sport, and I also had a really good chance to play good rugby and got selected for the Limpopo Blue Bulls Under-21 Currie Cup team and that definitely helped me going forward. After playing Currie Cup I was lucky enough to receive an invite from a club in Germany and then moved there in 2016. That was two years into playing rugby and everything was moving really quickly and I was also learning really fast and the progression was crazy,” he said.
Nyaude joined the then second-tier German Bundesliga side Neckarsulm Rugby in 2016 before helping the side gain promotion to the top tier in his first season, which earned him his first Sables call-up last year.
“Helping Neckarsulm earn promotion to the Rugby Bundesliga was a really big thing for me. People were starting to notice and I got my call-up for the Sables in 2017 under former coach Cyprian Mandenge where we played in a trial match against Zambia,” Nyaude recalls.
“Zambia was not one of our biggest competition, but it was a good chance for me to show the then coach Cyprian Mandenge that I was ready. I remember scoring my first try on my debut. The performance I put up was enough for me to gain his trust and later that year in 2017 I got the call-up for the Africa Cup.
“It was a remarkable achievement for me because just three years after learning the sport, I was capped for the national team. It was hard, but I had a lot of good people around me who wanted me to get used to the system. I played my first game against Senegal and also started against Namibia, which was a very close match and I think I played well,” he added.
Nyaude ranks the just-ended season as the highlight of his Sables career thus far after putting on some solid performances during Zimbabwe’s World Cup qualification campaign.
The towering lock, who can also play flank, saved his best for the last with an impressive display in the Sables’ last match against Uganda, which they needed to win or face relegation from the top tier.
For Nyaude, the main highlight was getting the opportunity to work under the respected former Springboks coach Peter de Villiers.
“I’d say the main highlight of my career so far was playing for Peter de Villiers. He played a big role in my rugby. To have such a coach believe in you and taking you under his wings is special.
“It was a really different experience from all the coaches that I’ve played under because he’s a motivator, someone who puts all his trust in you and that pushes you to explore more about yourself and go that extra mile. He’s really helped me to be the player that I am today. Since I’ve played for Sables under his mentorship I’ve become more confident and believe in myself more and my rugby has got really better.”
Nyaude credited his recent move from Germany to Portuguese top club Associação Academica de Coimbra to De Villiers’ influence and vowed to continue working hard as he continues his gradual rise in European rugby.
“After the season with the Sables, I was lucky enough to get this opportunity to move to Portugal for a team called Academica. It’s a really good team playing at the top level, which is a very competitive league. It’s been very good experience so far. Obviously the main goal for me or any rugby player is to play at the top professional level, but I appreciate it’s a process and I need to be patient and continue working hard. My focus at the moment is to get bigger and stronger and I’ve no doubt that I have the skills to play at the top level,” Nyaude says.