AMBITIOUS bids by two of Zimbabwe’s foremost sporting disciplines to qualify for the next World Cup of their respective codes have sparked a concerted push by the authorities to draft quality players with roots in the country into squads set to begin the qualification phase this year.
Football World Cup qualifiers kick-off for Zimbabwe in June, with the national rugby team launching its own campaign the following month.
The finals of both World Cups will take place in 2022 and 2023 in Qatar and France respectively.
Zimbabwe have never qualified for football’s World Cup, but the southern African nation provided the only team from this continent to the first two Rugby World Cups in 1987 and 1991.
Breaking the jinx to qualify for the World Cup has proved a step too far for the Warriors, time and again.
As for the Sables, the men in green-and-white hoops have missed a return to their sport’s greatest stage by a whisker on a few occasions – the 2003 and 2015 editions being the closest they came to qualify for since 1991.
Fielding top-class players with solid foundations in more professional systems could prove a game-changer for both teams. But that has not been an easy task for the federations of the two sports as quite a number of the players, as is their right, continue to weigh up their options with respect to their international careers.
Some, however, have already made the decision to retrace their Zimbabweans roots.
One such player who has committed to the cause of the homeland but has not hidden a previous ambition to represent his adopted country is rugby star Tapiwa Mafura (pictured).
The Pumas utility back has spent most of his life in South Africa and admits not to remember much from his early years in Zimbabwe.
“It was very tough,” Mafura tells The NewsHawks of his decision to accept Zimbabwe’s call-up. “I’ve always wanted to play for the Springboks, so I had to think about it really hard.”
Zimbabwe are also not giving up yet on the talents of eighthman Nyasha Tarusenga and wing Tatendaishe Mujawo who, like Mafura, grew up in South Africa and initially rose to prominence in the Varsity Cup.
While Mafura has answered the call, the 24-year-old tearaway does not see himself as having a role to play in shaping others’ decisions.
“It’s a very personal decision to make,” Mafura says. “Everyone has different circumstances and situations. All I can say is representing your country is a massive privilege and Zimbabwe is on a mission to reach the World Cup. That requires the best that is there. I have played against the Zim team before and I think with continuous improvements, they can be a great team. At full strength, they can be very competitive against highly-rated countries.”
Mafura first played rugby at Ermelo High School in Mpumalanga, then represented North-West University in the Varsity Cup in 2017 and 2018.
Ermelo, a commercial and industrial town in Mpumalanga province, is where Harare-born Mafura was raised after his family settled there in the late 1990s.
“I don’t remember much about my early life in Zim, my family moved to South Africa when I was very young,” explains Mafura. “My father decided to move for work purposes and the whole family followed. We’ve stayed in Ermelo for as long as I can remember.”
After spending an injury-hit two-year spell with Free State Cheetahs, Mafura is now enjoying life in his home province, turning out for the love of Mpumalanga – Pumas.
Although Pumas finished second from bottom in the 2020-21 Currie Cup season, Mafura was given a fair crack of the whip by head coach Jimmy Stonehouse, making a huge impression on the Mbombela Stadium faithful after returning to Mpumalanga for the first time as a professional.
“My first season with the Cheetahs, I only played one game, although we won the Currie Cup,” says Mafura. “Now, at Pumas, I am playing week-in-week-out, which is nice. But winning hasn’t been easy for us. I’m excited for what is coming in the future.”
A big fan of South Africa’s World Cup-winning wing Cheslin Kolbe, Mafura is equally at home as fullback or on the wing.
“I play fullback and both wings, 11 and 14,” he says. “I would say my best strengths are adapting to whatever the coaches play me, and my hunger to attack in broken play.”
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