In this moving tribute from Kisset Chirengende, Beast Mtawarira’s friend and former schoolboy opponent reflects on the journey of the legendary Bok prop who announced his Test retirement on Wednesday.
My friend, the indomitable Tendai Beast Mtawarira has called time on his illustrious career.
We played rugby together and against each other since we were 13. Back then as a feared No 8, he was known for his destructive carrying which often left bodies of would-be defenders littered on the field.
On a good day he required the attention of three defenders (make that five on a bad day for the opposition), but nowadays he busies himself with making life a living hell for elite tightheads, secures good clean ball for his team and dominates the contact point especially around the fringes of the ruck.
Believe it or not in one game in my senior year of high school, I was the legend! The year is 2003 and this is the first game of the season, Watershed College v Peterhouse Boys at Shane Buckley field! My task from my coach was simple (or you would think): ‘You are the openside flank today son, I don’t want you to do anything else but contain Beast,’ he said.
As a much shorter, robust but relatively quick athlete, it wasn’t a straightforward task to complete. Trying to deal with a 6’1, 103kg boy (astounding stats for a Zim high schooler at that time) was a nightmare but dare I say it, I came out on top that day.
But that’s as good as it gets for me as it’s probably the only time I’ve ever got the best of this man.
His work ethic is truly unmatched, his drive and passion to succeed and reinvent himself are out of this world, and his humility and love for people exceptional. No one outworks him.
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’.
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 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.
So it is no surprise that Mtawarira, a young black boy from ‘mere’ Zimbabwe is finishing his career days after winning the most coveted accolade in World Rugby, the Rugby World Cup. It’s bonkers! He has meticulously and deliberately prepared for what transpired on Saturday since he was about 16 years of age.
Last December, a group of us, friends and family were vacationing, as is our custom every year, in Vic Falls. As you can imagine, we were having the time of our lives; it also happened to be the lead up to my wedding and we were there getting happy and fat on nice food and drink, but not Beast!
He was on rice cakes, salad, salmon strips and green while conditioning twice a day in the gorge of Zambezi.
— Kisset.C🦁✝️ (@kyrosrugby) February 22, 2018
He has posted career-high stats, especially in 10m and 50m acceleration. That speaks of explosiveness and dynamism. Realistically, these stats should have been diminishing at this stage of his career. How is it even possible that they just kept on getting better? The answer is just sheer determination and good old dogged hard work.
This past January, he said to me: ‘I really want to win Super Rugby and the World Cup and I will not leave anything to chance, I will give it my all and bow out knowing I’ve done absolutely all I can to achieve those goals’.
So the performance you witnessed in those 43 glorious minutes on Saturday in Yokohama were a result of a calculated and deliberate effort over years in the laboratory when no one was looking.
He is the most capped Springbok in the team, third of all time behind legends Victor Matfield and Bryan Habana. The most capped SA Super Rugby player, the most capped SA prop of all time, the most capped black African, and I could go on and on. Out of 117 Tests he has only come off the replacements bench 15 times. Astonishing! the durability, longevity and consistency is really a marvel.
It has also helped that he’s had a great supporting structure around him from his family, friends and mentors. He would be the first to tell you that his wife Kuziva and their kids Talumba and Wangu have been critical to his success and I know he is forever indebted to them for their sacrifices.
You are a Legend! A GOAT in my eyes my brother and I’m super proud of you and all you’ve achieved. I’m also honoured to know you and appreciate your love and support over the years.
Whatever you get into after rugby I know you will be successful of it because most of the traits that made you a household name in rugby translate easily into the business world and other spheres of life.
Love you brother.
Photo: Steve Haag Sports via Hollywoodbets