BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
ZIMBABWEAN schools Peterhouse and Churchill High School have been basking in the glory of their most famous sporting alumni Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira after his heroics delivered a third Rugby World Cup title for South Africa.
Mtawarira retired from Test rugby on Wednesday, three days after inspiring South Africa’s latest World Cup triumph following their dominant 32-12 win over England in last Saturday’s final in Japan.
Even though he was on the field of play for just 44 minutes against England, Mtawarira made his presence felt with some powerful scrummaging to force some penalties against the Red Roses and in the process played a huge part in South Africa’s triumph.
Back home in his country of birth Mtawarira maintains cult hero status despite the fact that he chose to represent South Africa.
He is even more revered at his former schools, which both contributed in his rise to become one of the modern game’s most revered figures.
Ahead of South Africa’s final against England last Saturday fledgling rugby players at Peterhouse sent him and the Springboks a message of support in a video, which went viral online.
In return the Beast, who has maintained a close connection with his Zimbabwean roots, took the time to record a thank you video soon after the final, where he encouraged his Alma Mata students to keep working hard to chase their dreams.
Peterhouse Group of Schools rector Howard Blackett told The Sports Hub in an exclusive interview that Mtawarira continues to be an inspiration to students at the school due to his exploits in South Africa.
“Tendai’s long standing association with the Springboks has been and continues to be a huge inspiration to the boys at Peterhouse, not least because he remains in touch with his old school — he is not a distant figure but very much part of the place, albeit from a distance,” Blackett said.
He added: “The boys put a wonderful video clip together to wish Tendai luck and success for the World Cup final and he responded, following South Africa’s victory, with a message for them. “Given all that must have been going on after the match, it’s a measure of just what a great man he is that he found time to send the message.”
Blackett, who was backing his native England in Saturday’s final said Mtawarira’s success was another feather in the cap for Peterhouse and his junior school Springvale, which have produced a number of international sportspersons.
“Peterhouse and our prep school Springvale House has produced a number of international sportsmen and women over the years and it is, of course, fantastic that we can now claim to have a rugby world cup winner amongst our alumni. “The only drawback from my point of view is that as an Englishman I was, of course, backing the country of my birth and not SA!”
Former Zimbabwe youth international, Kudakwashe “Kisset” Chirengende, who is a friend and former schoolboy opponent of Mtawarira believes his success will act as an inspiration to fledgling local rugby players that they can reach the same dizzy heights he has scaled.
“I always tell the story that almost all rugby players of my era in Zimbabwe’s high schools dreamt of going pro but 90% of us didn’t really believe we could, not really. Simply because there was no reference point for us to say ‘gee that dude from the same background as me is up there playing Super Rugby so this can actually be done’,” Chirengende said in his tribute to the retired prop.
“Most Super Rugby teams were full of big white foreign nationals who we loved and idolised, but didn’t really relate to. Beast, though, saw it differently, he was futuristic! He saw himself there and fashioned his lifestyle around this dream, even sacrificing holidays and free times to work on his craft, a rare ‘unnecessary’ thing at that time among our peers. But now because of his achievements, a lot of black Zim and South African kids coming up have actual belief it can be done because he was a trailblazer,” Chirengende said.
Born and raised in Harare, Mtawarira, who is the first born in a family of three, attended Churchill School in Harare for five years where the late rugby development coaches Joey Muwadzuri and Taya Chakarisa, played a key role in his early development.
Mtawarira became a feared figure in the Churchill back row as a rampaging No 8 and it was during his time at the Harare-based school that he earned the nickname “Beast”, which has stuck with him throughout his international career.
While at Churchill he nevertheless remained raw talent until he earned a bursary at the Peterhouse Boarding School in Marondera — a prestigious institution, which like Churchill also boasts of a fine sporting pedigree.
During his time at Peterhouse he was mentored by Paul Davies, the school’s then British born rugby coach and another local school rugby stalwart Reg Querl, who is now the headmaster at Falcon College, one of Zimbabwe’s most prestigious private schools.
Querl, who was the sports director at Peterhouse at the time, afforded Mtawarira with a major stepping stone in his career after successfully recruited him from Churchill on a scholarship.
Beast made an immediate impact at Peterhouse and was soon made captain of the side in 2004 before being included in the Zimbabwe Schools side for the Craven Week, one of the world’s largest schoolboy tournaments held annually in South Africa.
“When he came to us he was unrefined but he just had a huge body that was made to withstand the rigours of rugby. He represented Zimbabwe at his age group and the next year he became our captain. Beast was a gentle giant — except when he was playing rugby,” Davies told the Daily Mail after the Zimbabwe-born star’s memorable display against the British and Irish Lions in 2009.
The powerful front rower was immense during the Springboks victorious test series against the British and Irish Lions, a performance that famously ended the career of veteran Phil Vickery.
Davies recalled the moment in 2004 when the Beast took the decisive step towards a full-time rugby career. Peterhouse were on tour in Durban — home of the Sharks Super 14 franchise — and were playing against a school called St Henry’s.
“I was sitting next to their headmaster,” he said. “At halftime he was nowhere to be seen and it turned out he had gone to phone a contact at the Sharks Academy to tell him about the Beast.”
Mtawarira joined up with the Sharks after school where he was trialled at lock, flank, and even at hooker before Sharks coach Dick Muir eventually convinced him to concentrate on loosehead prop.
The move would see Mtawarira become one of the greatest front rowers in Springbok history.
Boasting 117 Tests, Beast is the third most-capped Springbok ever behind Victor Matfield and Bryan Habana in addition to being the most capped prop in South African rugby history.
He retired last Wednesday at the age of 34 after making the most appearances for a South African Super Rugby team (159) and won the Rugby World Cup (2019), Tri-Nations (2009), Castle Lager Rugby Championship (2019), a series against the British & Irish Lions (2009) and the Currie Cup (2008, 2010 and 2013).