Tsimba is Free State's latest rugby gem

By Joslyn Titus Time of article published Apr 7, 2000

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Free State's ability to discover young talent remains a secret. In recent years they have been stripped of players but they continue to unearth them by the number.

Their latest find is a 25-year-old Zimbabwean who keenly followed Free State on satellite television in his native Harare a few years back.

Today Kennedy Tsimba is the number one flyhalf in the Cheetahs' Vodacom Cup side and those who have followed his progress predict a bright future for him.

Tabu van Rooyen, manager of amateur rugby at Free State, rates Kennedy highly.

"He has the attributes to go far - slick hands, great footwork and he has a rugby brain. On top of that he's got his feet on the ground," Van Rooyen said.

Kennedy's sudden emergence should not come as a surprise; he's just following in brother Richard's footsteps.

The older Tsimba played flyhalf for Zimbabwe at the 1987 World Cup.

"When people hear you're a Tsimba there is pressure on you to perform. It was tough and I'm glad to be in Bloemfontein now. Here you are under pressure to perform but not because of who you are," 25-year-old Tsimba said.

He did not take rugby seriously until deciding to study and travel in England from 1994 to 1996.

The travelling he describes as "fantastic" and the studying - business management at the University of Slough - as "enriching".

It was during his time at Slough that he also turned out in a handful of games for English club side Bath, who have internationals Jeremy Guscott and Mike Catt on their team sheet.

"I also played against the ACT Brumbies and Tonga who toured England during my time there. The experience I picked up at Bath was great."

But how did he end up in Bloemfontein?

"I came here with my mother when I was 16 because she wanted to sell her goods here. We ended up staying for two years. I went to school in Johannesburg and at 18 we returned to Zim," Tsimba recalled this week.

A year later he was travelling and studying in the United Kingdom and back in Zimbabwe after two and a half years he set his mind on playing in South Africa.

But his country required his services and in 1997 he added Tests against Italy and Scotland to his CV, which also showed previous outings against Namibia. There was also a trip to the Hong Kong Sevens that year.

"Overseas teams normally play games in Zim en route to South Africa and that gave us the opportunity to play against Test nations," he said.

"Rugby is big in Zimbabwe, especially at schools level. But with the sport not getting enough publicity it is difficult to get sponsors and kids just lose interest after that," Tsimba said.

At school he played soccer, basketball, cricket and swam and has Zimbabwe schools colours in volleyball but he never lost interest in rugby. In fact, he was desperate to play for Free State.

"I watched their games on satellite in Harare and found their style of play to my liking. They are adventurous and I like that."

Last January Van Rooyen got to hear of Tsimba, organised a work permit for him and he started coaching at school level.

At the same time he made strides at his club Collegians and soon found himself in the Free State B and Merit sides. Only Jannie de Beer stood between him and a Currie Cup debut.

"The union had no option but to offer Tsimba a contract this year. He's in the side on merit," said Van Rooyen.

Tsimba credits his team-mates for his success.

"I was on the bench towards the end of the Currie Cup last year and this year I've played in all the Vodacom Cup games. We have a good and young team with lots of talent from No 1-15. Everyone in the side contributes and that's got us to where we are now," Tsimba said.

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