Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Question:
has anyone ever seen Tendai Mtawarira quite so fired up?
Unable to be
able to claim regular attendance at the Shark Tank, I am open to correction
from sage locals.
Saturday - the hard-fought but nevertheless important Super Rugby victory over
the watered-down Chiefs - just seemed to sum up the current levels of desire
and constructive aggression in the long-time crowd favourite they brand “the
from a televised perspective, he oozed a possibly unprecedented, animated urgency
from start to finish of his power-driven shift on the day … a phenomenon that
would have helped galvanise many around him, too, as the ever-unpredictable
Sharks stabilised their playoffs aspirations.
As much as
he emitted great hollers of delight whenever he earned a notably dominant left
shoulder at scrum time - more than once - or carried a ball fiercely,
team-mates would just as quickly engulf him to confirm their gratitude and
cajole him further.
It was so
clearly a simultaneous reminder of the esteem in which Mtawarira, a
one-franchise man in the competition, is held in the Sharks camp.
He has been
singularly loyal to the Durban-based cause in Super Rugby since his competition
debut back in 2007, when team-mates - just another sign of his longevity and
durability - included Percy Montgomery, Warren Britz, Adi Jacobs, Albert van
den Berg and, yes, even the now former Lions head coach Johan Ackermann.
he keeps on repeating those herculean feats of safely supporting the bodyweight
of a lock colleague who may gather the ball high, from a hanging kick-off, and
then dangerously overbalance with an awful prospect of landing hard on the head
advancing years, Mtawarira isn’t showing any major signs yet, it seems, of interest
in a lucrative overseas gig at the twilight of his career … and the words to
Sport24 of Sharks CEO Gary Teichmann on Wednesday did little to suggest any
change of landscape soon.
is playing some of his best rugby and has a major influence on the current
team,” enthused the Tri-Nations-winning Bok captain of 1998.
“He has a
massive following in Durban and we would certainly like him to remain here.”
player so demonstratively purposeful in match situations must seem a special
joy to both Sharks colleagues and supporters, considering how much more
naturally unassuming and modest his off-field personality is.
is quickly apparent in media dealings, where the big loose-head prop does his
chores willingly but always comes across as a little bashful and squints in the
glare of the camera lights.
presently playing with a consistent level of general lustre I have possibly not
seen from him in some eight or nine years.
overworked by both his franchise and the national team from one season to
another, there have been reasonably long periods in between where he has
appeared to operate primarily in middle gears, as it were.
makes him a solid enough combatant; just nothing especially extraordinary.
and in 2016, for example, there were some often rightful views among
pundits/observers that Steven Kitshoff, the barrelling Stormers man some six
years the 32-year-old’s junior, sometimes warranted preference for the
Springbok No 1 jersey.
Kitshoff remains far more accustomed to No 17, one of the substitute numbers:
he has begun only twice from 23 Bok caps thus far.
Is it the
very threat, in 2018, of the flame-haired player from further down the coast
that is ensuring Mtawarira is reaching welcome, tangible new highs at present?
imagine it is a strong, obvious factor: Kitshoff can be near-unstoppable
himself on a good day, both at scrum-time and in open play, and certainly looks
destined to assume the first-choice baton at some point … perhaps after the
2019 World Cup, which will end with Mtawarira pretty long in the tooth at 34.
form has sometimes teetered this season, in line with the shaky fortunes of the
Stormers, but he remains a clear and present danger to Mtawarira’s customarily
supreme SA status at loose-head.
veteran may (no, will) also be deeply desirous to still be the “main man” at No
1 by the time the happy occurrence of his 100th Bok appearance comes
imminent, too: currently on 98, some juncture during the three-Test home series
against England in June (fitness permitting) will mark the event, and as the
sixth Bok player to reach three figures.
that the English are likeliest foes on the landmark day will also resonate
agreeably with the “Beast”, when you consider what remains his finest hour as a
when, as a sprightly young customer in 2009 earning his 11th cap, he
so violently demolished Englishman Phil Vickery repeatedly at the set-piece in
the first clash with the British and Irish Lions at his home venue.
in the kind of form and focus, nine years on, to suggest that a “carbon copy” on
a hapless Test foe in June cannot be ruled out …
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: