Beast Mtawarira relished the chance to mentor younger players in the USA and hopes to fulfil a similar role in South Africa in future. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Until recently, Mtawarira was part of the set-up at Old Glory in Washington DC. The World Cup winner – who finished his groundbreaking Springbok career on the highest possible note in Japan last November – returned home a couple of weeks ago.
‘I was just happy to get back to my family, man,’ Mtawarira said in reference to the travel restrictions that have been enforced since the Covid-19 outbreak. ‘I managed to get back to South Africa a few days before the lockdown. I was relieved.’
The loosehead prop told SARugbymag.co.za how his move to the USA first came about. A schoolmate from Zimbabwe put him in touch with the owners of Old Glory last year. At the time, he was focused on preparing for the Rugby Championship and World Cup.
Mtawarira eventually decided to accept the offer to end his professional career in the MLR.
‘Some players chase the big pay cheque at an overseas club after finishing their international careers. I had other reasons for accepting the chance to work with Old Glory in the MLR,’ the 34-year-old told this website.
‘I wanted to do something meaningful, and I saw the move to Old Glory as a chance to mentor younger players and help a semi-professional sport in the USA gain more recognition. I’d travelled to the States many times before with my wife, and I couldn’t wait to go back.
‘I saw what David Beckham had done for soccer in America during the latter stages of his career. I was hoping to do the same for rugby. I wanted to leave a legacy. Unfortunately, my stay over there was cut short due to the coronavirus.
‘I don’t know if I will go back to the States,’ he added, ‘The MLR season has been scrapped and I was only contracted for one year. They want me to come back next year, but I don’t know if I have another season in me.’
The USA’s loss may be South Africa’s gain. The vastly experienced prop is passionate about his adopted country and developing the players of tomorrow.
‘I’d love to work with younger players on this side,’ he said. ‘I see it as my duty as a retired player. I’d love to impart what I’ve learned and help young players who want to play in the front row.’
Like many rugby fanatics, Mtawarira has spent a lot of his spare time in lockdown watching old matches. The 2019 World Cup, of course, is a favourite.
The result aside, Mtawarira and his teammates delivered one of the great scrummaging performances against a more-fancied England pack.
‘That was my life’s work,’ he said. ‘It all came together in that final, I could not have asked for a better end to my career. All the hard work I’d put into my game over the years … it was all worth it. I knew the minute that game ended that it was my last.
‘I watched that final on TV recently. It got me emotional to see the guys playing and then celebrating on stage afterwards. We were such a tight unit.
‘Most people won’t understand what we went through. Players like myself were there with the Boks during the worst years [2016 and 2017], when the results and performances were poor. There were things going on behind the scenes that nobody will ever know about.
‘Then Rassie Erasmus came back and we started to build a new team. It was tough, but we became stronger together.
‘When I watched that final again all the emotions came flooding back. Even my wife was crying. She knows what we’ve been through over the past few years and how special that moment was for us in Japan.’