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The remarkable rise of the Mudariki brothers

BY DANIEL NHAKANISO IN CAPE TOWN

RARELY in the modern era of Zimbabwean rugby have two brothers been so important to the national team.

The Mudariki brothers — Hilton and Farai — are a special kind of double.

Not only that.

The remarkable rise of the talented siblings to the top end of the English rugby system has been one of the major success stories of local rugby in the last 18 months or so.

Barely four months after 27-year-old Zimbabwe scrumhalf Hilton sealed a move to Jersey Reds, a club that plays a tier below the English Premiership, his younger brother, the 23-year-old tight-head Farai, signed a contract in the top-flight with Worcester Warriors.

The two gifted players, who are among a small elite group of brothers to play Test rugby for Zimbabwe, have continued to make tremendous strides in England.

Although Farai’s first season at Sixways Stadium was interrupted by injuries, the powerful front rower, who was recently crowned Sports Personality of the Year at the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards UK, impressed sufficiently to be awarded a contract extension earlier in the year.

At the same time, older brother Hilton’s stock has also continued to rise at Jersey after helping the Hampshire side to a commendable fourth-place finish in the English Championship.

It has earned Hilton quite a lot of admirers around Europe and here in South Africa.

What has made the Mudariki brothers’ tale even more remarkable has been the manner in which they have remained fiercely loyal and committed to furthering their international careers with Zimbabwe.

So committed is Hilton to the Zimbabwe cause that soon after finishing his first season with Reds, he immediately linked up with the Zimbabwe Academy squad, which on Saturday completed its debut season in the Supersport Rugby Challenge in South Africa.

Hilton, who has been a key member of the Sables since making his international debut in 2013, told Standardsport here in Cape Town that he and his brother were eager to inspire the next generation, just like how they were inspired by fellow Zimbabweans who have made it in their rugby careers.

“We just want to inspire the next generation and just to kind of show that anything is possible if you just keep working hard,” Hilton said.

“There was a time when we both had nothing in rugby.  We’ve been able to continue with our rugby careers through hard work, belief and pushing each other that anything is possible.

“We just want to set an example for guys coming through out of Zimbabwe, the way coach Tonderai Chavhanga, The Beast (Tendai Mtawarira) and Brian Mujati have set an example for us. They’ve shown that you can get to the top end of rugby.”

Hilton has an impressive résumé, having represented KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa as a Michael House College schoolboy at the Under-18 Craven Week in 2010.

Soon after high school, he featured for the Western Province Under-19 Currie Cup side before moving to England, where he had stints with English giants Saracens and lower-tier side Amersham and Chiltern.

In 2014, he joined University of Johannesburg (UJ) ahead of the 2015 Varsity Cup after being offered a bursary to study Sports Psychology and a rugby contract at the prestigious university, which is one of the feeders of Super Rugby outfit Golden Lions.

The skilful halfback, who is also captain of the Zimbabwe national Sevens team, said he was pleased with the experience he gained during his first full season at Jersey Reds.

“It’s been a really good experience in England, it’s been a year of learning for me. The game in England is a lot different to what I was used to. Whereas in the Southern Hemisphere we love to run the ball more, in England they like to play with a lot more structure.

“It was an eye-opening experience and as the season went on I managed to learn a lot. There’s good healthy competition, which always pushes you to work hard.
At the end of the day, if you don’t perform in a professional environment, you’re straight out. That’s kept me on my toes and improving as a player and I feel
like I’ve really developed.”

Hilton was also full of praises for the Zimbabwe Rugby Union after the local rugby governing body, in collaboration with the Sables Trust, successfully organised a six-week training base for the Zimbabwe Academy in Cape Town during their participation in the SuperSport Challenge.

“It’s been really good, coming from a professional environment in the UK and joining up with the Academy side there hasn’t been much of a difference with everything being here provided for us. The coaches have gone out of their way to treat us as professionals, which is what we will eventually get to. The guys have benefited a great deal the last few weeks.”

During Zimbabwe Academy’s participation in the SuperSport Challenge, some locally-based players have earned contracts with South African sides, most notably Cleopas Kundiona — who was snapped up by top South African franchise Sharks.

Hilton reckons this can only take Zimbabwe forward as a rugby nation.

“I think it’s a really good move for Zimbabwean rugby. The more we can get guys playing in a competitive tournament like we are playing in right now and being in a professional environment, the more it will benefit us as players. You are going to learn a lot and you can bring everything that you have learned back
into the Zimbabwe system, which will only help us to improve as a rugby nation,” he said.

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