Former Bok Beast Mwatawarira has revealed how he was on the brink of joining a French club before Rassie Erasmus persuaded him to stay on and give the World Cup another go.
The veteran prop, who made his Test debut 2008, has admitted that the Springboks’ tribulations under Allister Coetzee’s rein in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, had him seriously consider the option of leaving South Africa to take up a lucrative offer with French super club Racing 92.
‘I was one of the most capped players in the side and so, as a senior player, a lot of the scrutiny was on me when things went badly,’ Mtawarira told the official British & Irish Lions website.
‘We were in a bad place and not doing very well and I had a decision to make. I thought about why I still play rugby and the answer was to win the World Cup.
‘Thank God we brought Rassie Erasmus back. He came at a time when a lot of people were saying Springboks rugby had died,’ Mtawarira explained.
‘We had a very frank conversation and he said I was a big part of his plans and convinced me to stay. It’s funny how things work out.’
The 34-year-old cult hero moved to explain how Erasmus came in and made the Boks face up to reality in order to effect one of the most fairy tale-like turnarounds in sports history.
‘He was very honest. He told us where we were at, this is the reality, this is how the world views us and we come from a country that has so many challenges. A lot of our countrymen look up to the Springboks as a team of hope but we are letting people down.
‘He said it is not like we do not have the talent but we all have to work together. No one is working as a collective, there is no synergy and no alignment in the whole of South African rugby. So, we have a big problem and we have to deal with it.
‘We had the World Cup and a Lions Tour on the horizon, so we needed to get in shape quickly. He said we have some complacency, and we have to get rid of that.
‘We want players to be desperate and do anything to wear the Springboks jersey. But a culture had started where new players had started to get comfortable and then get entitled. His speech was a massive reality check for everyone.
‘We decided to fix it and fix it together. We made such a big change in a short space of time. He made us realise what we had and how we can use it. A year later we won the World Cup.’
‘Rassie is very motivational. He is not the loudest guy in the room and doesn’t give Any Given Sunday speeches but he does just say it as it is,’ Mtawarira said.
‘He treats you like an adult and he used to be a player. He told us he used to make a lot of mistakes as a player – although I watched him and he was bloody good – but his Springbok career was cut short because of injuries, so he used to say he didn’t want us to end up like him.’
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