PIET Benade has certainly had to deal with a mixed bag of highs and lows in his rugby career.
These range from being plucked from Stellenbosch University as a 22-year-old farm-boy from Zimbabwe and handed his Currie Cup debut for Western Province at flyhalf ahead of the Springbok Werner Greeff, to the frustrations of a very promising career punctuated by injury.
In all this, the former Prince Edward Boys High creative genius has never lost touch with rugby developments at home, despite settling in the Cape Town area for nearly two decades now.
Whenever a team from Zimbabwe is in town, he drops everything to go and say hello, or offer a few practical on-field tips.
It was during one of these visits to Zimbabwe’s national team camp in nearby Stellenbosch — when the Sables participated in a four-nation tournament with Namibia, Kenya and Brazil in November — that team management discovered the long-term value of the 40-year-old ex-star from Chegutu, who voluntarily offered his services. With the goal of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in France uppermost, Benade has now been appointed as one of the assistant coaches for Zimbabwe — specialising in the backline, kicking and skills aspects.
It is a role that thoroughly excites him, for many reasons including working alongside the Sables’ backline coach Daniel Hondo, a schoolboy rival of his who played in a talented Churchill Boys High team that clashed fiercely with Benade’s great PE side around the turn of the millennium.
“I have a great relationship with Daniel Hondo, the backline coach, as we are the same age and spent many years at school playing against each other and later together for various national age-group sides and senior sides,” Benade tells The NewsHawks this week.
“It was great catching up with him again. Liam Middleton as the defence coach was only able to join the camp a bit later, so I was happy to fill in for him until he could be with the squad. Both these (assistant) coaches have been doing an amazing job, so I am just happy to be able to help out whenever they are unable to be there. Being involved with the Sables is a huge privilege. Getting to know and working with such a group of young and passionate Zimbabweans is such a pleasure. I am hoping to just bring a different voice and point of view to the coaching group. None of us know everything, but if we all add what we know, then the coaching group becomes more complete and the players, who we are there to serve, end up getting a better and more rewarding experience.”
Benade has been coaching at various levels around Cape Town for slightly over a decade now, at both schoolboy and club level. Along the way, he has held revered positions in the rugby-mad Cape. He was first-team coach at Rondebosch Boys High – one of South Africa’s best rugby-playing schools – and is currently the assistant coach for False Bay, a big club in Cape Town, a former team of his during his playing days.
“I first started coaching during a recovery period from a serious knee injury back in 2009 where I assisted at my old school Prince Edward in Harare,” he says.
“Godwin Murambiwa was the head coach, and he was kind enough to let me help out with the backs. Learning under him and trying to teach and help players enjoy themselves and reach their potential was a challenge I instantly enjoyed. In 2013, when my body was struggling with injuries and realising I could no longer really play at the highest level, the coaching side took over and became my main involvement in the game.”
Benade walks into a Sables environment bursting with young talent, something that delights him, given his coaching background.
“I think the potential of the group is what excites me the most,” says Benade. “The vast majority of the squad are in their early to mid-20s and there is so much room to grow and develop for so many of them. In the forwards Cleopas Kundiona (23), the former Falcon boy and young tighthead, was fantastic in the scrum as well as his work around the park in Stellenbosch in November. He recently was rewarded with a contract in the French Pro D2 with USON Nevers. On the side of the scrum, Godfrey Muzanargwo (23), the Prince Edward old boy currently at UWC (University of the Western Cape), is also developing well at blindside and will be an important player for Zimbabwe in 2022. Being more closely involved with the backs, I was particularly impressed by the abilities of Tapiwa Mafura (25), the young fullback currently contracted at the Pumas in South Africa. He is an extremely intelligent and skilful player who can perform a job in numerous positions due to his wide-ranging skillset. Brandon Mudzekenyedzi (24) was another outstanding player in the two Test matches, giving a glimpse of the skill and power that saw him selected to play for the Chiefs’ Mitre 10 Cup side in New Zealand. Quite a few players were unavailable at the camp in November, but I am positive that there will be numerous other players who will put their hands up during the Currie Cup competition which kicks off in March (Zimbabwe will play in the Currie Cup First Division this season).”
The World Cup dream is something Benade believes in, like everyone involved, although he admits that the Herculean task of getting past old foes Namibia will only be overcome with a team performance of a lifetime.
“Namibia are undoubtedly the benchmark, and it is up to the rest of Africa to try close that gap,” says Benade.
“When Namibia are at full strength, which I think they may have been near to in November last year, they are a very tough side to beat. Saying that, we were leading against them at halftime and were 10-10 after almost an hour of play, which was a positive. Our set-piece struggled under their power late in the game and perhaps our conditioning let us down in the last 20 minutes, where they capitalised on a few soft moments. Those are areas or weaknesses that need to be stamped out should we get the opportunity to play them again in the Africa Cup semi-final (World Cup qualification competition). With a few potentially impactful players making themselves available later in the year and a few months to try work on the areas identified, we are confident that something special can be achieved in the year.”
Benade was a Zimbabwe international in both the 15s and Sevens formats for a short period. It was in South Africa where he established himself in senior rugby. Injuries aside, he shares his best memories since Western Province handed him his first-class debut 17 years ago.
“I was very fortunate as a player to be a part of two South African national club championship-winning teams and, looking back, it’s something I can reflect on with a lot of pride,” he says.
“The first at Stellenbosch University while I was a student and then later with Hamilton’s Rugby Club when I returned back to club rugby after a few seasons playing provincial rugby and spending time in France. Both those teams were laden with future and former stars of South African rugby. In 2004, I was named to start at 10 in a Western Province side that contained 14 current and former Springboks who had just returned from beating the All Blacks in Johannesburg. I remember pinching myself when looking at the team-sheet. Bolla Conradie was my 9, Jean De Villiers and Marius Joubert were in the centres, Pieter Rossouw and Breyton Paulse out wide. Further Springboks, Neil de Kock, De Wet Barry and Werner Greeff were on the bench. The forwards were young Schalk Burger. Then other Springbok stalwarts of the time Daan Human, Eddie Andrews, Quinton Davids. Corne Krige was playing his final season and it was a great honour being on the field with him in his last game for Western Province in 2004. The most powerful team I played against were the Blue Bulls side of 2006 and 2007. I was playing at the Pumas at the time and it was no easy task playing against the core of the Super Rugby-winning and World Cup-winning squad of (Victor) Matfield, (Bakkies) Botha, (Fourie) du Preez, a young Morne Steyn and Bryan Habana. In the Pumas, we had an 18-year-old Duane Vermeulen in our side. It was immediately clear and obvious that he was on another level, and only a matter of time before he would showcase his talents at test level.”
Ample motivational stories for Sables players.