He’s spent his career defying the odds and blazing trails, now The Beast's sights are on England
Springboks / 29 October 2019, 3:45pm / Will Kelleher
The Beast is hoping for some beauty at the end of his Springbok story.
After a career of blazing trails, frightening forwards and stirring supporters into screaming the nickname he has had since the age of nine, Tendai Mtawarira’s epic South Africa career could end with him clutching the World Cup on Saturday.
The legendary 34-year-old prop is likely to retire following the tournament after winning his 117th cap. It is remarkable he has made it this far, having navigated a road full of potholes.
The Beast is a hero of the South African game, but was almost denied his Test career by politics. In 2010, two years after his debut, and 12 months after tearing the Lions front row to shreds, the government tried to have Mtawarira deported back to his native Zimbabwe.
They wanted only ‘nationals’ to play for the Springboks and since Mtawarira was born and raised in Harare, the capital of neighbouring Zimbabwe, they wanted him out. For six months he sat, waited and wished to be regarded as South African.
"I am a South African at heart," he said at the time. "I love this country. It has become my home. It is everything to me.
"Wearing the green and gold of the Springboks is a huge honour for me. That jersey is part of me. The green and gold flows in my blood."
Finally, he was accepted as a citizen and went on to become a great. Only 2007 World Cup winners Victor Matfield and Bryan Habana have played more for the Boks than him - and now, on the verge of joining them as a world champion, the first black African Springbok to reach 100 caps realises the significance of Saturday. Not just for him, but for a nation.
"I was just a primary school kid in Zimbabwe back in 1995," said Mtawarira of the first time South Africa topped the world.
"I didn’t watch rugby then. I was playing soccer. In 2007 I did watch and it was amazing, inspirational stuff and to be part of a World Cup final is a dream come true for me. I have worked hard throughout my career to get here and I want to make it count."
The Beast has not just been an iconic Bok because of his destructive style, but because of what he represents - a black man picked by the country that has been desperate to rid itself of its apartheid past not just because of the colour of his skin, but because he was the best.
Look across the South African team now and you see a far more multi-cultural, representative picture. The likes of Bongi Mbonambi, Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am and S’busiso Nkosi play alongside Afrikaners Lood de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Faf de Klerk.
And then there is the captain, the shining great symbol of progress, Siya Kolisi. The boy from the township who could lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
"It would be extra special," added Mtawarira on the prospect of the Boks winning the World Cup with their first black captain. "Siya is an inspirational leader. In the way South Africa has got behind him, it means a lot to unite the country. He’s been exemplary. It would be amazing to win this World Cup with him as captain."
But while the Beast hopes for a fairytale ending, there will be nothing sweet about the Boks’ approach against England on Saturday. "Every time we meet, it’s a physical onslaught and I don’t think (the final) will be any different,’ he said. ‘There’s definitely a mutual respect. The best way we can assure that is by going hard against each other. We’re the underdogs. We are going to have to play out of our skins to win it."
Whatever happens, the Beast has already won the hearts of a nation.