Coaches and players have come and gone but Tendai Mtawarira, the burly yet dynamic prop, has become a permanent fixture of the Springbok front-row since his debut against Wales in 2008.
More than that, he is on the verge of a resounding triumph as he prepares to match the legendary Os Du Randt’s South African record of 80 caps at prop when he takes on Argentina this weekend.
Mtawarira’s name only seems to splash across Youtube highlight reels and Twitter hashtags when he displays his titanesque strength by holding players above his head at kick off. But that is the beauty of the Beast as he silently and stoically toils away in the engine room, avoiding the glitz and the glamour.
The loosehead prop didn’t start his career in the front-row as he played flank and number eight throughout his schoolboy career in Zimbabwe. Only when he started training at the Sharks Academy was he told he should switch from the back to the front row. This is where he would make his mark on world rugby.
It was only a year later after his international debut when South Africa played their three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions that the crowds’ cries of ‘Beast!’ would strike fear in the hearts of tight-heads the world over.
Mtawarira was pitched against a stalwart of the game and Rugby World Cup winner in Phil Vickery. It was a tough ask for a young prop, only sparsely educated in the dark arts of the scrum, to try and hold off such a seasoned expert. But Mtawarira went above and beyond the call of duty as he obliterated his opponent and smote his ruin upon the side of the scrum. Forcing the shell-shocked Vickery to retire from the Test 44 minutes in.
The 31-year old has grown a lot since then. He’s gone from an energetic rookie to a seasoned Springbok role-model. Earlier this year he was announced as part of the Springbok leadership group by Allister Coetzee before the start of South Africa’s three-Test series against Ireland.
Recently pressure has mounted on Mtawarira. Maybe it’s his age, or the prominence of younger and more energetic looseheads but he is losing his utter monopoly on the Boks’ number one jersey after years of it being unquestionably his.
There are definite comparisons that can be made between Mtawarira and Du Randt in his day. They are both tremendously gifted athletes, they have put both in their fair share of big hits on their opponents and have bled green and gold for the Springbok badge. I’d imagine Du Randt would be proud to have Mtawarira be the one to meet his record.
By Nicholas McGregor