SOME eight years after Northampton Saints’ Brian Mujati established himself as European rugby’s best in his position, the English Premiership has welcomed another Zimbabwean tight-head prop with all the right attributes to rule the roost for quite a while.
Like Mujati, 23-year-old Mudariki is a powerful and destructive scrummager who is also quite mobile around the park — a prop able to destroy the opposition ball tirelessly throughout an entire game.
But that is where the similarities between the two front-rowers end, at least on the field of play.
While young Mudariki arrived in the United Kingdom quietly and unheralded six months ago, Mujati, in comparison, was a 12-time capped Springbok when he joined the Saints in 2009 — a player already with a reputation in world rugby.
The controversy that stalked Mujati all the way from South Africa — the abrupt end of his Bok career over citizenship issues as well as South African media’s obsession with his father’s farm-grab storm in Zimbabwe — was not exactly the kind of start to life in the Premiership the Bulawayo-born player desired. But such men as Mujati are made of steel and being able to shield himself from all the sideshows, often using his ability to freely and frankly express his strong views on events in his life, allowed him to concentrate on his rugby post-South Africa.
It was precisely one of the chief reasons Mujati had a successful Premiership career between 2009 and 2013, becoming a firm fans favourite at Saints in those four years.
Seen as a rough diamond, Mudariki arrived at Worcester Warriors without huge expectations, unlike Mujati when Northampton signed him from South Africa a decade ago.
He also does not have the outspokenness of Mujati.
It is to do with his upbringing. He and his brother, Zimbabwe Sevens captain Hilton Mudariki, were raised on a foundation of refinement, respect and disciplinary integrity — qualities further fostered in senior school at the prestigious Michaelhouse College in South Africa.
Despite the differences, though, Mudariki — who is now set for his Premiership debut after signing a new one-year contract this week — has great admiration for the 34-year-old Mujati, who is now turning out for Welsh Pro14 side Osprey.
“It is very inspiring to have a great player like Brian who has come before and sort of made the way for us Zimbabweans to make it in the Premiership and become recognised in Europe,” Mudariki told IndependentSport this week from England.
Playing in the same position, Mujati’s shadow will likely loom large for Mudariki in the Premiership and European competitions, but the young player from Harare was quick to put a distance between him and the former Bok front-rower.
“I would say, for me, it is too early to say whether I will reach that status (as Mujati), but I’m happy with the way I have come thus far. I just have to keep developing my game and tick all the boxes. But for sure, the sky is the limit, and you never know.”
Mudariki, who initially signed on in July from Stado Tarbes Pyrenees in France, is delighted at the faith the West Midlands side has shown in him, exhibited by the contract extension.
“I am very privileged to renew my contract at Worcester, having spent just over half a year here. I feel I have settled well at Sixways Stadium. We have wonderful facilities and great coaching staff. I am privileged to have this opportunity. I do not take it lightly. I hope I can continue working hard and, as for playing in the Premiership, I have not played yet, it is something I’m aiming towards. I just want to be part of the regular team as soon as possible. I just want to continue developing my game.”
Mudariki’s move also comes with benefits to Zimbabwe. With 10 Test caps under his belt and counting, the Sables prop is the first Zimbabwe international to play in the modern professional English Premiership.
Worcester though already have in their ranks another Zimbabwean player, back-row forward Marco Mama. Nigeria-born Mama has not played for Zimbabwe’s national side, but he captained the country at Under-20 level a few years back.
His presence at the West Midlands side has come in handy for Mudariki.
“It is great having Marco with me over here at Worcester,” said Mudariki. “Marco played with my older brother at (Zimbabwe) Under-20 level. He is someone I have known for quite some time, having attended Heritage School together back in the day in the 90s. Marco is a lot older than me, but he is someone I know and having him at the club has helped me settle in. It is great to have someone you can relate to, someone you can speak to about things happening back home especially in these tough times. It is good to have someone who understands what you are maybe going through, you know, to have your family back home. And being here doing the job at Worcester, it is good to have him around; very nice guy and very good player as well.”