By Robson Sharuko
Harare - If Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira lines up for the Springboks this weekend in their Bloemfontein showdown against England, he will clock a century of Test appearances for his adopted country in a remarkable month in which he is marking a decade of service for the two-time world champions.
And, as fate would have it, he could mark his 100th appearance for the Boks in the same stadium, and city, where he made his first appearance in a Test for the South Africans on June 14, 2008, in a battle against Wales before scoring his first try for the team a week later against Italy in a man-of-the-match performance.
Along the way, he has established himself as one of the finest props to play for the Springboks, if not to feature in the rugby union, and if he makes the team this weekend, as is largely expected, he will join the illustrious company that has served so long for their countries.
Legendary All Black Richie McCaw has the highest number of caps in rugby union with 148 for New Zealand, former Irish and British and Irish Lions star Brian O’Driscoll has 141 Test caps, former Aussie captain George Gregan ended his career with 139 caps for the Wallabies.
Gregan, who won the World Cup with Australia in 1999, was born in Zambia in 1973 to a Zimbabwean mother and an Australian father with the family moving to settle Down Under in Australia when he was only two.
All three players have retired from the game.
Gethin Jenkins represented Wales and the British and Irish Lions 134 times, Sergio Parisse wore the colours of Italy 134 times, Kevin Mealamu fought for the All Blacks 132 times, Ronan O’Gara played for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions 130 times and Stephen Moore featured for Australia 129 times.
Lock Victor Matfield spent 14 years playing for the Boks between 2001 and 2015 for 127 times, wing Bryan Habana featured in the same team 124 times, Martin Castrogiovanni played for Italy 119 times as a prop, Tony Woodcock featured for the All Blacks 116 times while Jason Leonard played for England and the British and Irish Lions 119 times.
Jason Hayes featured for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions 107 times, Percy Montgomerie wore the Springboks colours as a fullback for 102 times and Mtawarira could join that elite company of centurions in the event he plays for the Boks this weekend.
Last year, the players who have played, at least 100 Test matches for their countries in rugby union, came together to form the Rugby Centurions.
Such was the exclusivity of the membership that only 49 players in the history of the game qualified to be members of that company and they came up with the Centurion Foundation to promote the game at grassroots levels.
Other projects included the erection of a plaque in honour of each Centurion and to celebrate the greatest moments of each and every one of these players through documentaries and even, in some instances, the creation of clothing lines. Springboks World Cup-winning captain John Smit was chosen as the custodian of the Centurion Foundation.
He featured for the Boks 111 times and is one of five South Africans to achieve such a feat with Matfield (127), Habana (124), Montgomery (102) and Jean de Villiers (109), being the others.
Mtawarira could break into that elite company this weekend in the city where his journey with the Springboks started exactly 10 years ago. He will become the sixth Bok – after Percy Montgomery, John Smit, Victor Matfield, Jean de Villiers and Bryan Habana – to reach the milestone.
The Zimbabwe-born prop has already created history as the most capped player for his Sharks franchise which is based in Durban where he has played 146 Super Rugby matches for the side, starting in 114 games, and scoring 25 points.
He has also featured in 37 Currie Cup matches for his side, starting in 32 of them, while also scoring 15 points. Some of his family members based in Zimbabwe are expected to be in Bloemfontein this weekend to celebrate the milestone when the 112-kgs prop breaks into the elite club of Test Centurions.
The Boks have a spring in their step after they showed great character to come back from 24-3 down in the first Test against England at Ellis Park in Johannesburg last Saturday and turn the game around to win 42-39 to strike the first blow of this tough three-Test battle.
The Johannesburg Test was a historic encounter as it marked the first time the Boks were led into a Test battle by a black player, Siya Kolisi, in their 127 years of history.
"I was obviously very nervous, it was a tough start," Kolisi told journalists after the match. “Luckily I had guys like Duane (Vermeulen) who had been in situations like that before and Willie (Le Roux) ... we all took charge and told the guys to calm down.
"We knew that wasn't what we were capable of.
"The guys with new caps didn't panic ... they just wanted to play. We decided to take control of the game and play at the pace that we wanted to play, and that's how it changed.”
There were six black players for the Boks in that match, which represented a huge increase in terms of the participation of black players in the team, and Mtawarira played for 48 minutes of that showdown before being replaced.
And his teammates are also aware of the special nature of the occasion in Bloemfontein this weekend. “This milestone is going to change a lot of mindsets,” captain Kolisi told the SA Rugby Magazine. “It’s going to show what can be achieved by people who come from a poor background, and what can be achieved if they never give up. “There’s another aspect to this too, which I think people might be missing. Beast was willing to make such a big change from loose forward to prop [in his early years]. He put in a lot of work and is now on the verge of his 100th Test.
“Hopefully, other people, some who come from similar backgrounds, will see what Beast has achieved and believe that they can do the same.”