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Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira says Sharks going big into international waters

Tendai Mtawarira with Bongi Mbonambi, one of the Sharks’ new recruits since the MVM takeover. Picture: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix

Tendai Mtawarira with Bongi Mbonambi, one of the Sharks’ new recruits since the MVM takeover. Picture: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix

Published May 7, 2022


Johannesburg - It is well documented that the Sharks have received a huge boost in investment these last few seasons, with US consortium MVM holdings snaffling up a majority share in the franchise.

A flurry of new signings followed that deal from mid-June last year onwards, with the Sharks putting pen to paper such SA heavyweights as Siya Kolisi, Bongi Mbonambi, Eben Etzebeth; and most recently powerhouse centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg, formerly of Sale.

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There is something of a revolution happening on the KZN coast, backed by big money, the power of the dollar and with the ambition to make the Sharks an international brand that will be synonymous with triumph. And, according to former Springbok and Sharks great Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, this is only the beginning.

Mtawarira is well placed to explain the transformation taking place at the union. The 36-year-old, who was capped as a Bok on 117 occasions, is retired from the game but he is still heavily involved at the Sharks, sitting on their board as – in his words – “a representative of MVM, with a strategic advisory role”.

“I meet,” Beast continued, “every two or three weeks with Ed (Sharks CEO Eduard Coetzee) … I’m also an ambassador for the Sharks as one of the longest serving members of the team, having played more SuperRugby than any other South African in that competition.”

Speaking at the launch of the second edition of the Carling Champions Cup this past week, Beast made it irrevocably clear that the Sharks have a clear goal, an achievable objective and a long-term commitment to uplift rugby not only in the province, but also in the country and then the world.

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They are lofty ambitions, no doubt, but Mtawarira is convinced that they are achievable, and for the investment to pay off, games will first need to be won, tournaments reigned over and silverware held aloft.

“We want to build a championship team,” said Mtawarira, who also keeps busy post-pro-rugby by completing his MBA, labouring proudly over his foundation; and being an ambassador for Unicef.

“We want to create a culture where players can thrive. Having a core group of senior players, especially guys that have been there and done that, who have won a world cup like Siya, Bongi – that just sets the precedent amongst the youngsters.

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“That creates a high performance environment from the academy, from the junior teams, all the way to the senior Sharks team. It takes a lot of time to build up to, but I think the owners have a big vision to take the Sharks onto a global platform and make the brand more appealing and they are on the way in doing that.

“Having big name stars being part of that team, it just shows the credibility of the Sharks and what we are all about. We want to win trophies as you are judged by the amount of trophies that you have in the cabinet and that is what we build towards.

“All these players that have been signed; they are going to contribute to that vision.”

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A coy Mtawarira then tantalisingly hinted that there were more big announcements to come, saying: “There are other things in the pipeline, which I am not allowed to divulge at the moment, but I think that everything that is being done at the Sharks is for the team to become a dominant force in world rugby.”

Although the world cup winner hung up his scrumming studs in late 2019, he remains an untapped authority on the game; and despite never playing in the United Rugby Championship (URC) after a lifelong commitment to SuperRugby, the European tournament’s worth was immediately apparent to the former prop.

“It has been a good change for us to get South African teams into the URC. Some of the positives are that we are travelling in the same time zone and we don’t have to combat jet lag as we had.

“It is also financially more lucrative for SA rugby.

“From a rugby point of view, I find the teams from up north to be a lot tougher and more abrasive than the teams from New Zealand and Australia. The game is more physical, and probably more forwards orientated … I think that suits us more.

“When you look at the Springboks, we focus on a dominant pack and that sets the platform for the backs to do well. It has been quite a big change for us to get used to teams from Ireland, Scotland (Wales and Italy) but I think we are just going to get better and better and go from strength to strength as the competition goes on.”

The Sharks are third in the URC standings, and have one hand on the SA Shield as they are the top ranked side in the country. They have qualified for the play-offs of the tournament, as well as the big-money of the prestigious European Champions Cup next season.

A bevy of players, Mtawarira revealed, have impressed him so far this season and he was quick to point out a handful when quizzed.

Said Mtawarira: “Some of the Sharks players that have really put their hands up, guys like Aphelele Fassi. Makazole Mapimpi has just been going from strength to strength. Ox (Nche) is really playing well.

“A guy that has actually impressed me from another team, is Vincent Tshituka. I think he is a phenomenal rugby player and I hope he is able to get his citizenship and represent South Africa, because I think he is a Springbok in all but writing.”

Coming from a legend such as the Beast, that is high praise indeed.