Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira’s shock move to Major League Rugby in the United States may inadvertently open another exit route for young South African rugby players to explore, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
I believe Mtawarira when he said money wasn’t the motivating factor when he decided to wind down his illustrious career in the United States. At least not for now, that is.
The World Cup winner will be making about a third of his salary earned in South Africa, although there may be other perks involved like a big-signing bonus, free housing, free schooling for the kids, a nice big pickup truck and a few complimentary spa days per week for the wife.
‘Beast’ wants to help grow the game in America, while he has always had a liking for their culture, especially basketball. He hardly missed an NBA Africa game in Johannesburg over the last few years, while he attended last week’s game between the Magic and Lakers in Orlando.
But I suspect he didn’t turn down big offers from England and France just so he could sit courtside, or help America become a rugby force. There could be a possible grand plan, with Mtawarira connecting American rugby, as well as other sports, with the rest of the world and especially Southern Africa.
Mtawarira’s deal with Old Glory was brokered by Kyrios Sports, a sports marketing company the former Bok prop co-owns. In November 2018 he went on a tour of the United States, and met with various sports people, including Minnesota Vikings COO Kevin Warren, to look at infrastructure and make some contacts.
It’s no coincidence that just over a year later he is back in America playing rugby.
Rugby is quite puny in the United States compared to Major League Soccer, which in turn is still a long way behind the NBA, NFL and MLB. The salary cap is still rather small, as Beast will be one of the top earners in the league at about R650,000 a season.
But league has the potential to become very big in a very short space of time, and the future is where Mtawarira can cash in after building his brand and company in the US of A.
The league already boasts plenty of star power, with internationals such as Ben Foden (England), Matthieu Bastareaud (France), Ma’a Nonu, Rene Ranger (both New Zealand) and Digby Ioane (Australia) all currently contracted to American teams. The product is bound to improve, which means that there will be more money pumped into the game, which could mean a big rise in salaries.
This is going to make it attractive for players in South Africa, who are struggling for game time or financial reward, to move over to the States and earn a few extra bucks.
South Africa already has a problem keeping young talent here. They want to earn mega bucks overseas at a young age, which SA Rugby just can’t compete with because of the weak rand. The US will also offer these players a chance to play international rugby and keep their investments safe for a number of years.
Mtawarira is no doubt going to be a hit in the US, and his experience will seriously help grow the game in that country. I also wish him well and good fortune after being such a great example of professionalism and loyalty over the last 10 years. He has earned the right to do what he wants after rugby.
Hopefully more kids will follow his example and fight for the Bok jersey in South Africa, instead of moving abroad. However, it’s likely that his move will open the door for young players go to America and try to make a good living.