On Friday night, Beast Mtawarira reaches the incredible milestone of setting a record when he becomes the most capped South African rugby player in Vodacom Super Rugby history.
Over the course of 156 games (soon to be the record-breaking 157), he has become a firm crowd favourite for his never-say-die attitude and living The Sharks brand.
“For me, playing loosehead prop behind him there are so many things I picked up,” explains Thomas du Toit who has been mentored and shown the ropes by Beast.
“When I moved across to tighthead, I was training against the best loosehead in the world. I’ve been able to take something away from every training session and every game that he plays, I watch what he’s doing against other tightheads. He’s been a very important and influential player in my life.”
A true professional who has captured the hearts of Cell C Sharks fans, and the general rugby audience, Beast came to Durban where he attended The Sharks Academy. Although he initially played on the flank, coach Dick Muir saw something special in him and his conversion to the front row catapulted him to the position where he has become a household name in world rugby.
A year after making his Cell C Sharks Super Rugby debut, he was selected to play for the Springboks (2008) and was nominated in the SA Rugby Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year categories. He played in his 100th Test for the Springboks against England last year.
“I can still remember my first game,” he recalls fondly. “It was against the Waratahs in 2007 in the Super 14, I was picked by our coach, Dick Muir, on the bench and come on with 20 minutes remaining. What was memorable about that game was that we won it.”
A Butch James try, a conversion and four penalties from Percy Montgomery and a drop-goal from Francois Steyn secured a 22-9 victory over the Australians in that second round match as the Cell C Sharks went on to finish the pool stages on top of the Super Rugby log, winning 10 of 13 matches.
“We went on to have an amazing season and playing in the final. Sadly, we lost to the Vodacom Bulls at JONSSON KINGS PARK but it was a great year.”
Looking back over his Vodacom Super Rugby journey, he admits that the drive has always been about commitment and passion. Concerns about breaking records never featured.
“I never thought about the record (157 games), it’s actually mindboggling to realise I’ve played so many games. I never thought about achieving milestones in my career, I was always committed to just improving all the time. Every opportunity I got to put on the jersey was an opportunity to play my heart out. I’ve always focused on enjoying every single game and every moment that I got to play this wonderful game.
“Before I knew it, I’d played 50 games, then 100, and now 157 on Friday.”
He credits an element of luck and belief for his longevity. Now in his 13th season at the Cell C Sharks, he’s never been out the game for very long.
“I’m grateful to the Lord for looking out for me and I’ve been very fortunate on the injury front, I haven’t had many bad injuries over the course of my career.
“It’s been an amazing ride, I’ve had great mentors – coaches and team-mates – who have really pushed me. They inspired me to be better, to work hard and never rest on my laurels.”
Although he started his Vodacom Super Rugby career with a win, he would like nothing better than to achieve his record with a win. But not for himself.
“For me, definitely the team comes first and we know what we need to do. We played really well against the Vodacom Bulls but the only thing we didn’t do was winning the game. We’re hungry to get a good victory so we’re focusing on this game and the challenge it brings.”
Well done Beast. The rugby world applauds your contribution and loyalty to Sharks rugby.