BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
IT’S been almost a decade since former Zimbabwe international wing Karl Mudzamba carved a successful professional rugby career in New Zealand, one that could have seen him at the very top end of the sport had it not been for a luckless run with injuries.
Blessed with electrifying pace and an eye for the try line, the “Zimbabwe Express”, as he was affectionately known in New Zealand rugby circles, represented Hawkes Bay in the National Provincial Championship (NPC) (now Mitre 10 Cup), where he shared the same dressing room with well-known teammates like former All Blacks Corry Jane, Israel Dagg and Zac Guildford.
Now almost 10 years since Mudzamba made a name for himself in New Zealand, there’s another young, emerging Zimbabwean rugby prodigy who could be soon hogging the limelight in the land of the long white cloud.
That man is Brandon Mudzekenyedzi, the 22-year-old utility back who early this month made his debut for Waikato Rugby Union at centre in the Mitre 10 Cup, which is the second highest professional level of rugby union in New Zealand.
But who is this talented young rugby sensation, who could soon be knocking on the doors of the Super Rugby outfit Chiefs (formerly known as the Waikato Chiefs)?
Mudzekenyedzi moved from Zimbabwe to New Zealand as a six-year-old and played football until he was aged 11.
He gave rugby a go and instantly fell in love with the game, building a reputation similar to his rugby role model in New Zealand’s high school rugby system while at Heretaunga College, the same school which produced his other role model, the now retired All Black Jane.
“My favourite player is Conrad Smith, simply because he’s very clever [in] the way he gets around the field, he’s a thinking player,” Mudzekenyedzi told the New Zealand publication Dominion Post after making the Hurricanes under-18 training camp four years ago.
“His defence is on point and he’s not just a rugby man. I’m trying to be like him but I’ve got a long way to go.”
After completing his high school education in 2016, Mudzekenyedzi moved to Japan to pursue his tertiary education while also playing professional rugby at Ryutsu Keizai University, who compete in the Japan National University Rugby Championship.
While in Japan, Mudzekenyedzi attracted the attention of several clubs in the Top League, the highest level of rugby competition in the country, but a move never materialised.
After spending three years at Ryutsu Keizai University, on a scholarship, Mudzekenyedzi was unfortunately released in his final year at the institution and after failing to find new opportunities in Japan, he retraced his footsteps back to New Zealand.
The Zimbabwean, who can play at wing or centre, was one of the stars of the Hautapu Rugby Club side, which clinched the 2019 Waikato Club Championship before also featuring for the Chiefs Development team, that earned him a place in this year’s Waikato squad for the Mitre 10 Cup.
Featuring in the Mitre 10 gives Mudzekenyedzi the ideal platform to further develop his promising career as the competition is one of the premier pathways to the Super Rugby level and ultimately All Blacks selection in New Zealand.
However, rugby isn’t his only passion. In 2013, he won the Wellington secondary school culinary competition, before going on to represent Wellington in the New Zealand national finals.
“You need something to fall back on other than rugby and I want to be a chef,” he said.
“You can’t just do one thing. I like cooking because you can make people smile with food.”
But at the moment rugby is the only thing on Mudzekenyedzi’s plate as he looks to further establish himself as one of the rising stars in New Zealand professional rugby.
And very soon he could be sharing the rugby field with his younger brother Munashe, who is currently part of the Under-16 side of Geelong Rams Rugby in the Australian state of Victoria.
The Mudzekenyedzi brothers’ mother Leona Banda, who lived with her sons for more than a decade in New Zealand before moving to Geelong, said she was initially against them playing the contact sport.
“Munashe has always played soccer, he’s always wanted to play rugby too because his older brother Brandon plays in New Zealand for the Waikato Chiefs, but I was trying to stop both of them from playing because it’s so rough,” she says.
“I just don’t understand the game, but once he (Brandon) got to 16, I started trying to understand the reason why he wanted to play.
“Both the boys just love the contact and, in the end, I just had to support my son and he enjoys the environment.”