Stretches like rubber, runs like a cheetah

CHEETAHS.jpg

THEY make them fast in Masvingo, really fast. The good old historical place that once gave world rugby its quickest man, a speed freak called Tonderai Chavhanga, has continued to spoil us.

Enock Muchinjo

It might not be a matter of choice that Tafadzwa Chitokwindo has settled firmer in the shorter version of the game than in the main format.

But he is, without doubt, tailor-made for it — with his darting footwork and sumptuous skills — and he knows how to exploit the acres of space available in Sevens rugby.

All the more so, Chitokwindo is quite the entertainer, always playing with a trademark infectious smile spread across his face. His bubbly personality and speed suits the spectacle that is international Sevens rugby and its fast-running environment.

His nickname, Rubber, goes hand-in-hand with that of Zimbabwe’s team — the Cheetahs — and the jolly good commentators of the World Sevens Series just love it.

Zimbabwe arrived in Cape Town on Monday for the second leg of the World Sevens Series, having lost all five games in Dubai last week — including two pool games against Argentina and Samoa that they nearly won.

Tomorrow at Cape Town Stadium, the Cheetahs face Dubai leg champions New Zealand as well as South Africa and Samoa.

It is a tough ask, but spectators can always expect Chitokwindo to lighten up the game with his trickery and acceleration.

“Rubber has come of age in the Sevens game and is one of the most feared finishers in the World Series,” Zimbabwe team manager Gerald Sibanda, himself a former Cheetahs tearaway, says.

“As the technical team, we demand more from him as we are building a world-class outfit. His experience over the years should help us bring stability, maturity and confidence in our overall team’s play.”

Those demands are something Chitokwindo is aware of, and he thrives in those kinds of conditions. “There is the burden on me as a senior player to do much more on and off the field,” Chitokwindo says.

“I feel like I play that big brother role in the team. If anything goes wrong, people always come to me to ask where we got it wrong. So there is always that pressure on me to play well. And it’s a kind of pressure that I accept and enjoy.”

Rubbing shoulders with the best Sevens players on the planet is something that excites Chitokwindo, but it does not faze him at all. “It’s always a great pleasure and privilege to play against the best,” he says. “But we try not to get overwhelmed. It’s good to compete with them, but it’s always good to remember that the reason you are there is that you are part of the greatness.”

Chitokwindo was schooled at Victoria High and Kyle College, both in Masvingo, where his reputation as an all-round sportsman was enhanced. He played provincial schools football for Masvingo, but his call-up to the national Under-20 side was not taken up because of track-and-field commitments in sprint.

His ability to sprint has indeed been a weapon of Chitokwindo in Sevens rugby, and he will use it for as long as his legs last the distance. But all this does not mean Chitokwindo is any less effective in the full version of the sport. He does also possess the skill set to excel on the congested field of Fifteens rugby.

He is a dashing winger who reliably scores tries for TV Pforzheim in Germany and at Test level for Zimbabwe. On many such occasions, Chitokwindo’s tries have punctuated his anticipatory skills, awareness and predatory instinct.

His absolute beauty against Namibia at Hartsfield in Bulawayo this past season ranks among his very best.

From deep inside the opposition’s 10-metre line, a Zimbabwe player did well under pressure to palm-off, backwards, a loose ball to the outstanding stand-in flyhalf Brandon Mandivenga.

Collecting shoulder-high from Mandivenga outside Namibia’s 10-mentre line, Chitokwindo knew exactly what to do.
He gave a typical deceptive swing, hinting at going blindside. Then quick as a flash —and all in a single movement — Chitokwindo swivelled inside sharply, showing a clean pair of heels right in-between two defenders to sprint all the way to the try-line.

Here one minute, gone the next!

That, though, is not Chitokwindo’s personal favourite try in the green-and-white hoops of Zimbabwe. The try against Russia in a World Cup Repachage tie in Siberia in 2014 is the pick of the crop for him.

“It was off a scrum in our own five-metre and I ran an inside ball with our flyhalf and I scored from our try-line to the other try-line. It’s still there on YouTube, you can check it out.”

Going to the World Cup in Japan next year would have been the perfect platform for Chitokwindo and other brilliantly-gifted players in the Sables squad to showcase their talents. A glorious opportunity was fluffed but, thankfully, age is still on the side of the bulk of the current Sables group.

The 2023 World Cup will be a real possibility if the team is allowed to grow in stature and settle into a rhythm.

Chitokwindo, who is 28 years old, should definitely be a key man in that future.

But for now, focus is on the World Sevens Series, and the Cape Town leg this weekend.

“I think that we performed well, we were just unlucky to come out without a win in Dubai,” says Chitokwindo. “But given our preparations, given the resources, I feel like we are making huge strides to catch up with these teams. We are also put in a tough pool in South Africa but we know that at this stage there are no easy games. So we know that going there, every game is going to be the same. We just have to be up for it and commit ourselves to the course. We are actually excited to play the champions from Dubai, the All Blacks Sevens, and also South Africa at home. Samoa, we had a go at them in Dubai and we look forward to having a repeat of the same performance.”

And lofty endorsement would not have come from no less a great son of Masvingo than the record-breaking Springbok, Chavhanga.

“Tafadzwa’s ability to beat defenders one-on-one, coupled with his lightning speed, makes him a lethal weapon on the Sevens circuit,” Chavhanga says.
“Zimbabwe has unearthed another rugby gem. Akabva ku Masvingo ne carpet!”

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