ONE of the greatest disincentives for some professional sportspersons is the lack of due recognition for their talents. Â
Costa Dinha, one of the most gifted Zimbabwean sportsmen of his generation, fits well into this category. Â
The former Zimbabwe rugby captain â€” who also represented his country in basketball â€” two weeks ago completed a seven-year professional rugby career in Germany and returned home to work on the family business, just over a decade after he left Prince Edward School to join the famous Harare instituteâ€™s ex-boys club, Old Hararians.
â€œFor now Iâ€™m back for good but with sports youâ€™ll never know,â€ Dinha tells IndependentSport.
â€œIâ€™ve done my fair share of playing and I feel I need time to rest. Iâ€™m 31 now, zvekuramba uchimhanya izvi (keeping on running) is taxing. At the professional level, Iâ€™m done. Amateur-wise I will still be available to play.â€
On his return Dinha, who played eighth-man for most of his career after his formative years in the second row, joined Districts instead of his boyhood club amid some cracks in the OH camp which also saw experienced flanker, Prayer Chitenderu, move to the Old Georgians-based club at the beginning of the season.
Â â€œWhen I came back there was uncertainty at OH and I sort of wanted to take a back sit. If I had gone to OH I would have had to play a major role. I wasnâ€™t ready for that.â€
Still in good shape, Dinha wants to add to his 30-plus caps for the Sables if called up.
â€œIf they want my services Iâ€™m always willing to play.â€
With some of the countryâ€™s leading players now plying their trade there, the standard of rugby in Germany has been a subject of debate in Zimbabwe.
â€œWhen I went there standards were about the same as here,â€ Dinha says. â€œIn fact, they were just slightly below us but within a year they overtook us because there was money being put into the sport. The top teams got fully professional, got foreign coaches and paid players good money.
â€œ(In Zimbabwe) we didnâ€™t professionalise when the rest of the world was. You canâ€™t really blame it on ZRU but the situation in our country was very difficult for everyone.â€
The level of rugby, and accordingly the money, is not a good as in the UK, France and Italy, but â€œItâ€™s okay. You can sustain your living. The money was not a huge sum. It was more of a welfare thing; the air tickets, accommodation, medical aid â€” you know, everything was paid for and as a player you only concentrated on playing rugby. You had nothing to worry about.â€
When he arrived in Germany he first played for SC Neuenheim, but later switched to local rivals RG Heidelberg.
Â â€œIt triggered a lot of unionism among players,â€ he says. â€œThe club was shaken. It was like â€˜If you want to keep players you payâ€™â€.
The strides made in the domestic game also resulted in the advancement of the German nation side, which has been promoted to the league just below the Six Nations.
Dinhaâ€™s best mate, Edmore Takaendesa, is a member of the Germany national team.
â€œTaki is playing very good rugby,â€ says Dinha. â€œHis game has improved. He is a guy who would have helped a side like Zim. But the problem here is we donâ€™t look after players.â€
Like Dinha, Takaendesa went to PE and played for OH before leaving for Germany, somehow qualifying for the third-tier European side despite having been capped by Zimbabwe.
Being one of the leading players in the Bundesliga, Dinha never imagined himself as a Germany international.
â€œIâ€™m very patriotic. I never thought about it.â€
As a young graduate of PE, Dinha wanted to play in the loosies, but at OH he found the team quite congested with quality back rowers.
â€œThere were very good loosies there like Wellington Charlie, Bhuru (Mordecai Mwerenga) and Gordon Chiromo, so I had to settle for lock.â€
On occasions, though, Dinha was preferred at Number 8 by coach Godwin Murambiwa. Tall and athletic, he combined the physical strength of a tight forward, mobility and agility to break the oppositionâ€™s line.
So when Murambiwa took over the Sables job, he fielded Dinha at eighthman.
Â â€œBasically when Brendan Dawson retired I was the only one who could play Number 8,â€ Dinha says, adding of Dawson: â€œAs a number 8 he was brilliant. The man is an icon for Zimbabwe rugby in terms of loose forwards. He always carried the ball forward. A very emotional player.â€
With Dawson now the Sables coach, Dinha pauses before passing his comment. Â
â€œLook, people have different opinions and everyone is entitled to their opinion,â€ he says. â€œMy opinion is that Dawson is the best Zim can do. He understands the game better. There is nothing better that having Brendan in the changing room motivating players. He knows what its like to be on a rugby pitch fighting for your club, province or country. But of course he needs assistance from other people. I wouldnâ€™t like to do it alone. I would love to be consulted.â€
Dinha recalls his introduction to club rugby.
â€œBack then it was tough because you didnâ€™t expect to play in the first team instantly,â€ he says. â€œThere were the Under 21s sides. You trained different times
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of Zim schoolboy rugby players. Some went to OGs, some went to Sports Club but the majority went to OH.â€
In 2001 Dinha made the OH first XVs, a side which beat the all-conquering Old Miltonians in Bulawayo for the first time.
â€œWe reached the final that year, but lost to a side that contained Dawson, Dave Walters, Jeff (Tigere) and Taffy Manyimo. Then for the next three years we dominated the league. OMs had lost a lot of players. Guys like Taffy, TJ (Madamombe) and Karl Mudzamba went to play abroad while we retained a decent side.â€
Dinha went on to make his full Zimbabwe debut in Namibia in 2001.
â€œStandards have gone down the drain,â€ he says of Zimbabwe domestic rugby. â€œYou canâ€™t blame the players and coaches. Itâ€™s just the organisation of the union. Back in the years cricket and rugby were at par before they got Test status. In fact, rugby was number two in Zim after soccer. If we had kept good organisation there is no reason why we should not have been at the same level with them. In my view Sevens is getting all the attention. Where in the world do you see XVs piggybacking on Sevens?
â€œIn other countries Sevens players come from XVs, then they chose to specialise if they want. Here I donâ€™t know what happened with the union. As long as XVs is not recognised we wonâ€™t get anywhere. Look at Kenya, who are doing well in Sevens but their XVs are way down the rankings. We play one game per year, how are we going to improve our ranking? ZRU have an uphill task.â€
He adds: â€œIf selection is done well I donâ€™t see us failing. In certain positions we can have a very good team. Look at the match (World Cup qualifier) in Namibia last year. In the second half we were doing all the scoring. And I was the only foreign-based player, well, alongside the likes of Gardner (Nechironga) who only plays in Polokwane.â€
Itâ€™s not all gloom and doom, Dinha says, as the country still has some quality rugby players.
â€œFrom the crop of players we have, Jacques (Leitao) is in a league of his own,â€ he says. â€œHe is playing very good rugby. Happy Nyatanga is also a very good young player. There is also this winger from Districts who came from OH (Taffy Zirima). Tich (Chidongo) and (Rangarirai) Zembe are some of the guys who can also do well for us.â€
Constantine Dinha was born in Harare in 1978, growing up in his hometown of Chiredzi, which he proudly calls the â€œhome of captainsâ€.
The late Eric Chademana, the first black captain of Prince Edward, and current Zimbabwe captain Cleopas Makotose, are also Chiredzi boys.
The young Constantine attended Hippo Valley primary school, where the seed of sports was first sown.
â€œYou wonâ€™t believe this but I was more into swimming when I was a laaitie,â€ he says. â€œBut growing up in a small community you played every sport. Rugby took centre stage when I was in Grade Four.â€
In form three at PE he played basketball because of his brother Joseph, who co-formed Celtics club. He won some caps for Zimbabwe.
â€œIt was just a sport I liked, he says. â€œIt was fun. We played the likes of Angola in the Zone Six and competed well. At some point I had to make a choice because the seasons overlapped. I had to attend two sessions in one night. Rugby was obviously the choice.â€