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From the ruggedness of Marondera and Rusape to the glamour of the World Cups



A SIMILAR countryside childhood in Zimbabwe, the same primary school, same reasons for leaving their homeland, and now featuring at the concurrent World Cups of rugby and cricket for two different European nations.


This is the story of how Sebastian Negri and Sam Curran have turned unfortunate family circumstances into a success story by reaching the pinnacle of their chosen sports.

Zimbabwe-born Sebastian Negri won his 50th Test cap for Italy a fortnight ago in their 38-17 win over Uruguay at the on-going Rugby World Cup in France.

Negri was raised in the agriculture-rich area of Marondera, his birthplace, nestled 72km east of the Zimbabwean capital city Harare. He was initially schooled at Springvale House near his hometown before the family relocated to South Africa after being forcibly displaced from their Marondera farm.

The 29-year-old flanker is the grandson of Italian immigrants who settled in the then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, many decades ago. His father Janusz Negri grew up in Zimbabwe and attended St George’s College in Harare together with prominent sporting figures like Mudiwa Mundawarara, Zimbabwe’s top rugby referee for a number of years and now Rugby Africa’s referees’ manager.

The tough-tackling Italy stalwart’s mother has Zimbabwean roots. The Negri family eventually retraced its Italian heritage, via South Africa, culminating in Sebastian’s journey to represent the land of his forefathers.

Janusz Negri travelled to Lyon last week to support his son and the Italian side in their epic clash with New Zealand, as the European side was trounced 96-17 by the All Blacks.

Away from France, another World Cup, in cricket, started in India on Thursday. The Zimbabwean connection there is with England all-rounder Sam Curran, who is playing in his first 50-over World Cup.

The 25-year-old fast-medium bowler and batsman – son of the late former Zimbabwe ace all-rounder Kevin Curran – was born in Northampton, England, when his father was an overseas player for Northamptonshire.

There are striking parallels in the upbringing of England star cricketer Curran and Sebastian Negri, who has been singing the Italian national anthem full throttle at rugby’s World Cup.

Like Negri, Curran also went to Springvale House in Marondera for junior school. As kids, Negri was a keen cricketer, and Curran a very good rugby player.

In other matching events, the Currans’ family farm was also taken over by the government during the fast-track land reform programme. Situated on the Harare-Mutare highway in Rusape, their father Kevin’s place of birth, the farm was also the boyhood home of Sam and his two cricketing playing brothers Tom and Ben.

Left homeless after the farm eviction, the Curran family found sanctuary at the Harare house of former Australian cricketer Geoff Marsh, who was Zimbabwe’s head coach between 2001 and 2004 while Kevin Curran was the assistant coach.

Marsh’s sons, Shaun and Mitchell – who went on to play for Australia – spent some of their early years in Zimbabwe alongside the Curran lads.

In 2019, legendary former Australia captain Steve Waugh tweeted a photo of young Mitchell Marsh and Sam Curran playing with a lawn mower at the Marshs’ suburban Harare home. Waugh’s throwback came after Marsh and Curran had squared off against each other in an Ashes series match between England and Australia in 2019.

Now, from once sharing a house, the two close families have now made a unique piece of World Cup history.

The Marshs and Currans are one of seven families in world cricket to have provided a father and son who have played in cricket’s premier World Cup since the tournament was launched in 1975: Geoff with Shaun and Mitchell, then Kevin with Sam now.

But, had the situation been different, Sam Curran would probably be strutting his stuff in the red colours of the Chevrons, with his fellow SVH old-boy Sebastian Negri accumulating the caps in the green-and-white hoops of the Sables.

It is however the blue of the Three Lions and the blue of the Azzurri that they represent with pride, and certainly no one can begrudge them.