It is official.
The Beast will be in the black and white colours of the Sharks for the next three years after his employers at the KZN Rugby Union successfully fought off a ferocious bid for his prodigious talents from their Golden Lions counterparts.
But while Tendai Mtawarira can now focus his attention on the Currie Cup champions’ preparations for the approaching Super 15 (kick-off February 18), the boardroom battle between the Sharks and the Lions could continue well into the new year after the Sharks lodged a complaint against the Joburgers with the SA Rugby Union.
The Sharks said the Lions offered Mtawarira an alternative contract when he already had a binding contract with the Sharks, which was in breach of the governing body’s regulations.
Mtawarira became the No 1 target of the Lions following the take-over at the troubled union (they came stone last and did not win a game in the 2010 Super 14) by IT multi-millionaire Robert Gumede.
The Lions have been throwing big money at the transfer market but have yet to land a big fish, and the highly popular and charismatic Mtawarira would have been a glittering addition to a team that is rebuilding under accomplished former All Blacks coach John Mitchell, the New Zealander who coached Perth’s Western Force in the Super 14 last year.
Mtawarira was courted by the Lions late last year and was offered a contract by some margin in excess of what the Sharks are paying him.
Sharks CEO Brian van Zyl explained: “We had already signed Tendai and although there were a few addendums to his contract that he still had to initial, the basic contract had been signed.
“The Lions believed they had seen a gap and vigorously pursued our player, even though we had signed him. We obviously are not happy with this and will be taking appropriate action against the Lions.”
Van Zyl said the Sharks were paying “top dollar” to keep the 26-year-old Mtawarira, who has been pushed up to the same salary scale as seasoned Springboks such as John Smit, despite being a comparatively inexperienced Springbok.
For Sharks and Lions fans, this latest spat between the Joburg and Durban franchises will induce a sense of déjà vu.
Precisely at this time last year the same unions were in court fighting over the contracts of 2009 Lions players Willem Alberts and Louis Ludik.
The Lions maintained that the pair had ongoing contracts with them, but the Sharks successfully challenged this in court and Alberts and Ludik went on to play significant roles for the Sharks in the 2010 season, with Alberts winning Springbok colours after a series of brilliant performances in the Currie Cup.
Going back further, the Lions and the Sharks fought it out in court over AJ Venter, who had been man of the match for the Lions in their Currie Cup final win over the Sharks in 1999. The Sharks again won the case and Venter went on to play for the Sharks for over a decade.
Sharks coach John Plumtree, meanwhile, is relieved the wrangle is over.
“The Beast is a big part of the Sharks having come from nowhere to advance from the Sharks Academy to the senior team and then to the Springboks,” the highly respected Kiwi coach said.
“He has gone on to become one of the best loosehead props in the world and our coaching staff are excited about continuing his development.”
Mtawarira was spotted by Sharks Academy scouts when his Zimbabwean school, Peterhouse, toured KZN when he was 16. He was offered a bursary and enrolled at the academy the following year.
Tendai’s younger brother is following in his footsteps and is currently enrolled at the academy.
The Beast was in the spotlight last year when he was prevented from playing for the Springboks because his South African citizenship application had not been processed by Home Affairs.
He missed out on the Tri-Nations competition mid-year before being presented with his South African passport later in the year and he toured the UK and Ireland with the Boks in November. — The Mercury