LAST time a prop from Zimbabwe arrived at Sharks’ Kings Park Stadium in Durban, he would turn out to be a record-breaking international player for South Africa — one of the world game’s greats.
By Enock Muchinjo
The story of Tendai Mtawarira, known to world rugby as the Beast, is one that has been well-documented over the years, so let’s not steal the thunder from the latest jewel from Zimbabwe that has just arrived in Durban with all the attributes of a top-class rugby player.
It has been 13 years since Mtawarira first played at the Shark Tank, and later to become a world-renowned player in times to come.
The Beast was only 20 years old back then, the same age as Cleopas Kundiona is when the exciting Zimbabwe international was unveiled at the famous Durban franchise this week on a first-class contract.
The difference is that Kundiona has already committed his international future to Zimbabwe, already capped four times by the Sables in World Cup qualifiers last year.
The Zimbabweans therefore have this fine talent in the bag, thankfully.
His first Test cap for Zimbabwe last year, under former Springbok mentor Peter de Villiers, came when Kundiona was only 19 — no mean feat for any player in international rugby at that age.
In March, this newspaper carried a special feature on the young tight-head, who had just joined Johannesburg club Raiders courtesy of a deal by Harare-based agency Athletes Sphere Management (ASM).
It has taken less than two months, and the beastly 120-kg front-rower is now set to make his Currie Cup debut this forthcoming season with Sharks.
“Cleopas is destined for greatness,” declares ASM founding president Gerald Sibanda, former Zimbabwe speedy winger.
“The day I signed him I knew he was the right stuff for ASM. He represents everything we stand for: humility, hard work and success. This new opportunity is the first for all our clients. Cleopas will grow to be a world-class front-rower. I absolutely have no doubt in my mind that he will excel at the Shark Tank. It’s his time, trust me.”
This is indeed exciting times for Zimbabwean rugby, which is smarting from failing to qualify for the World Cup to be held in Japan this year.
The Zimbabweans, who had hired de Villiers among other ambitious measures in pursuit of that World Cup dream, were aiming to return to the game’s greatest stage for the first time since 1991.
Come to think of it, Kundiona — who is a strong ball carrier, top scrummager and defensive rock on the loose — is not even Zimbabwe’s first-choice in the number 3 jersey if all players were available to play for the Sables.
Last year in the World Cup bid, that position belonged to another top-class talent, the 24-year-old Farai Mudariki of Worcester Warriors in the English Premiership.
Both young players come from families where the values of good work ethic, the right attitude and humility were hardwired into them at an early age.
It clearly shows in Kundiona, who in an interview with us for our March 1 edition, heaped praise on his international compatriot and fellow tight-head Mudariki.
“Having someone as good as that to compete with only makes you want to do better,” Kundiona said. “Farai is very humble, always willing to help me with some tips on line-out and scrums. I thank him and wish him more success.”