Since making his debut for the Springboks on June 14, 2008, the Zimbabwean-born player has crept deep into the hearts of South African fans. Wherever the Boks play, whether it is in Nelspruit or Cape Town, the roar ‘Beast’ reverberates through stadiums whenever the stocky player touches the ball.
The 28-year-old Mtawarira’s milestone against the All Blacks at Ellis Park on Saturday follows hot on the heels of those of his fellow front rankers, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis. Brothers Bismarck and Jannie reached their 50-Test milestones against Argentina in Mendoza in August and last week against Australia respectively.
This will be the first time each player in the South African front row has gone past the 50th Test cap mark. The relationship between the trio goes beyond the Du Plessis’ being siblings it is clear Mtawarira has been included in their extended family.
“It is quite special and unique that the whole front row are playing in their 50th in the same year and I really enjoy playing with Bissie and Jannie,” Mtawarira said on Wednesday. “Bismarck yesterday whispered in my ear that on Saturday he expected ‘nothing less from my Beast’, so I am looking forward to that.”
As the player has proven on many occasions, his soft-spoken manner is not a reflection of the way he plays his rugby. He picked up the name ‘Beast’ at the age of nine, but has grown to live it out on the rugby field with his strong scrummaging and powerful carries with the ball.
Reaching his 50th Test milestone was something he set out to do when he made his debut for the Springboks, Mtawarira said. “I was always positive and it’s always been one of my goals and, certainly, things that happened in the past makes you stronger for the future,” Mtawarira said.
“I am very excited for what is coming on Saturday and beyond that.” While Saturday’s match will mark a special occasion for him, this is not something that will distract him from the challenge at hand.
“I’m not even really thinking about it being my 50th Test, I’m thinking about it being a final, this is as close to being a world cup final,” he said. “I am just focusing on that and helping the team to ultimately achieve our goal on Saturday.”
Speaking of Mtawarira’s achievement, Meyer praised him for his positive influence on the team and the character he had shown to reach his goal. “To play 50 Tests for your country is an unbelievable achievement and especially the three of them playing together is unheard of,” Meyer said.
“He is a great team guy who doesn’t say a lot, but on the field he produces for his country. “It is great to have him back after he was sick last year, and just to be back shows the character of the guy.”
Last year there were serious concerns about the burly prop’s health because of an irregular heart rhythm.
Mtawarira was withdrawn from the Boks’ year-end-tour match against Ireland in Dublin after being hospitalised with mild heart palpitations. On his return to South Africa he underwent a minor procedure and has since been at the top of his game for both the Sharks and the Springboks.
The Springbok prop has clearly put this behind him and has set his sights on reaching even greater honours in the future. “I’m just looking forward to getting better and improving and ultimately be the best in the world,” Mtawarira said.
“It is important to always aspire to achieve my 50th Test and after that I would like to achieve my 100 Tests for the Springboks.” While he can recall many highlights in his previous 49 Tests for the Springboks, the year 2009 stood out as his most memorable year.
“There’s been quite a few, the British and Irish Lions was really special which is something that comes around only every 12 years and, I remember winning the Tri-Nations in 2009, which was really special how the guys became a band of brothers from that.”