DURBAN – Much has been made of the raft of senior players the Sharks will be losing at the end of this season but the good news is that the next generation of players are putting their hands up, notably loosehead prop Mzamo Majola, who has been deputising for Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira.
The Beast injured his knee playing in the Sharks’ victory over the Waratahs in Sydney two months back and young Majola was flown over as a replacement.
The former SA Under-20 representative has been standing in for Mtawarira ever since and has made the most of his opportunity, standing out for his strong scrumming, excellent defence and busy work rate.
Now the 24-year is back in Sydney at the same Coogee Beach resort they stayed in ahead of the Waratahs game, and Majola is hoping they have similar fortunes in Saturday’s Super Rugby quarter-final against the Brumbies in Canberra.
“We are happy tourists,” Majola agreed. “Road trips are a good opportunity to spend more time with your teammates. When you are back at home it is different, you don’t spend that much time together because you have your personal lives.
“It becomes genuine and sincere when you are on tour and you leave the hotel and you bump into a familiar face and he is your teammate, and you grab a coffee. You get closer, you bond. Being away has worked out well for us this year and hopefully it is the same again this weekend.”
The former Westville Boys’ High pupil has come through the ranks at the Sharks after having joined the Sharks Academy out of school. Having graduated from the age group teams, he says he is living the dream of being a Sharks player that he has had for as long as he can remember.
“It has been a special season for me,” he said. “If you had asked me at the start of the season how things might work out, I couldn’t have come close to predicting this. It really has been super cool. I am born and bred in Durban and grew up watching the Sharks and the Beast, which makes this opportunity I have been given so special.
“I still see myself as a kid, very much learning from the wise heads in our squad,” he continues. “Who knows, maybe one day looking back I will have a story that will appeal to someone. But right now I am just enjoying the opportunity to play.”
One of the wise heads is, of course, Mtawarira himself.
“It’s just awesome. If you look at the Beast, he is just a legend! To have someone like that pushing you in training is very special.
“I have been fortunate at the Sharks in terms of front-row advice. We have some very good players. I have learned a lot from Akker van der Merwe and Craig Burden has been very insightful.”
Majola and his fellow forwards will be up against one of the better packs in Super Rugby this season.
“They have a very good pack and their statistics show why they won the Australian conference,” Majola said. “They have a very good driving maul and strong set piece. At scrum time, they have won the most scrum penalties in the competition.
“They are going to bring plenty of physicality knowing they are playing against a South African side,” he added. “So we will have to match and better what they bring to the party.
It is a huge challenge but we are up for it and know how we are going to approach them.”