Harare - The Beast did not get the victory for the perfect present on the occasion of his 150th Super Rugby match for the Sharks – the Durban franchise which has been his home since his arrival in South Africa from Zimbabwe – as the Crusaders won this battle in Christchurch last Saturday.
But, even this 10-40 defeat at the hands of this New Zealand powerhouse, could not mask the significance of the occasion as the Zimbabwe-born loose-head prop marked yet another milestone in a career that has gone the full distance in which he has distinguished himself as one of the finest of his generation.
Tendai Mtawarira, who turns 33 next Wednesday, already has more than a century of Test caps for the Springboks and last Saturday he clocked 150 caps in Super Rugby matches for his beloved Sharks in a quarter-final battle against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Tries by Bryn Hall, David Havili, Matt Todd, Braydon Ennor and Peter Samu and conversions by Richie Mo’unga (3) and three penalties by Mo’unga powered the Crusaders to victory while the Sharks replied through a try by Kobus van Dyk and a conversion and a penalty by Robert du Preez.
Mtawarira had said the battle against the Crusaders provided his side with a golden opportunity to show what they could do on the rugby field against a team that was on a 12-game winning streak.
“I think we’ve shown signs of greatness in this side, but obviously we’ve let ourselves down at particular points of the season,” he told the stuff.co.za website.
“I think as a team we’re growing. This side is coming of age. I think this weekend is an opportunity to show what we’re capable of. Yes, we’re playing against the best team in the competition, but if you put on your best performance we’ll see what happens.”
He was in the Sharks side that beat the Crusaders 30-25 in their Christchurch fortress four years ago despite the handicap of having to play the final 16 minutes a man short after Jean Deysel was red-carded.
And Mtawarira, who was looking for something to inspire his men, described it as something he would never forget.
“It was quite a special day. I’ll never forget it. I think we really fought hard as a team and we didn’t stop believing,” he said.
However, there was no repeat of that shock win this time around as the Crusaders ensured the showdown would go according to expectations as they won the contest with a lot to spare in their tank.
“We weren’t quite there and that was the story of our season,” head coach Robert du Preez said in comments that were carried on the official Sharks website.
“We just can’t keep patient, I guess that’s the sign of a young, growing team. But I’m really proud of the boys, they put a big effort in and for that, I’m proud of them.
“The Crusaders are an excellent attacking and defending side and I can’t see any other team beating them. Their set-piece is so good, lineout-wise particularly, they scored tries from that and you have to front up physically.
“I thought we were getting a little bit tired, the boys were definitely tired.”
Sharks captain, Ruan Botha, a refreshingly honest man who paid glowing tribute to Mtawarira on his long journey with the team, was also full of praise for the opposition from New Zealand.
“Hats off to the Crusaders, they pressured the one-on-one defenders. Championship games are won on defence, we missed a few crucial one-on-one tackles and that cost us,” he said.
“This whole season we played well against New Zealand sides, we knew the Crusaders would be a huge challenge, that’s why they were top of the log. They played great rugby all season and their defence was strong against us and their attacking play excellent, they kept running into holes getting into space.
“I am very excited for The Sharks brand, we have some young talent coming though, we just have to stick together, work hard for the rest of the year come back next season and hopefully do a lot better.”
Mtawarira has already made history as the most capped player to wear the Sharks colours and had been hoping his team could produce the kind of performance, on the special occasion of his 150thSuper Rugby match, like the one which saw them destroy the Blues 63-40 in Auckland, New Zealand, earlier in this campaign.
However, the Crusaders were always going to be different, and better, opposition and the good money right now is that they will go all the way and win this year’s Super Rugby Championship for back-to-back success stories.
With the team packed with a number of superstars, including All Blacks captain Kieran Read, Israel Dagg and Samuel Whitelock, the Crusaders are a mean machine and their quality showed in this battle against the Sharks.
Mtawarira joined an illustrious club of players who have played in, at least, 150 Super Rugby matches in a career which has also seen him score 25 points.
Those players include Crusaders’ Corey Flynn (150 matches), Tatafu Polota-Nau who featured 152 times for the Waratahs and the Force, George Smith, who played 155 times for the Brumbies and the Reds, Ma’a Nomu who played 160 times for the Hurricanes, Blues and Highlanders and Nathan Sharpe who played 162 times for the Reds.
Liam Messan played 163 times for the Chiefs, Stephen Moore played 175 times for the Blues and Brumbies, Keven Mealamu also played 175 times for the Blues and Chiefs while Wyatt Crockett wore the Crusaders colours for 200 Super Rugby matches.