YOU ought to be pretty special, in this exceedingly demanding era of professional sport, to be contracted by one of the biggest franchise teams in world rugby when you are battling a nagging injury.
Loose-forward Tino Mavesere was still on the sidelines, in the sick bay, when South African giants Sharks signed him last June following a sparkling Varsity Cup season with the University of Western Cape.
The injury meant the 24-year-old Zimbabwe international was not able to immediately challenge for a place in Sharks’ United Rugby Championship squad, where his competition in the back row includes no less a superstar than South Africa’s World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi (pictured).
Last weekend, after a long road back to fitness, Mavesere made his senior Sharks debut against promoted Griffon in the opening fixture of the Currie Cup, South Africa’s premier domestic first-class competition.
It was a winning start for the young Zimbabwean, in the 32-16 come-from-behind victory, as the Durban-based franchise fielded a largely youthful side in the absence of their URC heavyweights who include Kolisi himself and five other 2019 World Cup heroes.
In a sign that the Sharks family has quickly warmed up to the Zimbabwe sensation, even as he is fresh from injury, Kolisi – using popular Zimbabwean lingo – took to Instagram to congratulate Mavesere on his Currie Cup maiden appearance.
“So happy for you Mudhara @tinotendamavesere…Been a journey,” wrote the Boks skipper.
And then during the week, in a conversation with us, record-breaking former Springboks winger Tonderai Chavhanga piled the praise on Mavesere and backed him to break into Sharks’ squad for the United Rugby Championship, one of three major leagues in Europe in which South Africa fields four teams.
Zimbabwean-born Chavhanga was assistant coach of the national side in the 2019-20 seasons when Mavesere – commonly referred to back home as Blithe (his middle name) – showcased his raw talent to position himself for the life-changing bursary at the University of the Western Cape.
“I’m excited for Blithe, it was always a matter of time before he got his chance,” Chavhanga told The NewsHawks from Cape Town.
“He has been patient and has worked hard for this moment. I have no doubt that he will make himself, his family, the team and all of us proud. I’m sure that he knows that this is just a stepping stone to get him to the next level.”
Mavesere made his Currie Cup debut on the hallowed turf of Kings Park Stadium in Durban, where fellow Zimbabwe native Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira gained legendary status between 2006 and 2019.
The 2019 World Cup-winner amassed a record South Africa of 160 caps in the old Super Rugby competition, a milestone that will take some beating.
For Mavesere – who incidentally went to the same school as Mtawarira in Harare and as a young player was once punished by his coach for calling himself “Beast” – the journey is only just the beginning.
South Africa withdrew from the old Super Rugby tournament in 2020, to join Europe’s United Rugby Championship.
This is the pinnacle, the stage on which Mavesere can begin to dream of coming close to the monumental achievements of the man whose nickname he tried to “steal” at Churchill Boys High School.
“I think he has what it takes to play the URC,” commented Chavhanga. “Blithe has bulked up nicely so physically he has the capability to front up with the physicality that’s required for top-flight rugby. He is very good over the ball, which is what you need from a flanker. He has the spread and skills of a back and he has a general feel for the game.”
Mavesere debuted in the Currie Cup in the number 6 jersey and, just like his role model Mtawarira who left Zimbabwe as a loose-forward, don’t be surprised to find the versatile Sable featuring in a different position for the Sharks, perhaps even in the backline.
However for Chavhanga, Mavesere’s best bet is in the forwards pack.
“Dawsie (Zimbabwe’s head coach Brendan Dawson) is the one who brought Blithe into the set-up and he had so much faith in his abilities and his personality,” said Chavhanga.
“Blithe never let us down once. He picked up over 10kgs of muscle in about six weeks. He had incredible work ethic and was always willing to learn.
Because of his speed and skill, I convinced Dawsie that we pick him on the wing against Zambia, and he accepted the challenge and played well. But clearly, Blithe is built for the engine room. I expect him to have dominant ball carries and hard tackles. The opposition’s ball will not be safe from Blithe’s claws.”