SOUTH Africa-based Zimbabwe rugby team scrum-half Hilton Mudariki has been appointed captain of the Cheetahs side ahead of their participation at the Safari Sevens which gets underway on Friday in Nairobi, Kenya.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The 22-year-old rising star, who is on a scholarship at the University of Johannesburg, takes over the substantive captaincy duties from long-serving skipper Jacques Leitao and wing Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, who led the side in Namibia last weekend.
“It’s a massive honour and privilege to be handed the captaincy of the Cheetahs. It’s something I wasn’t expecting, but I’m really excited about the opportunity,” an elated Mudariki told NewsDay Sport yesterday.
Mudariki, whose younger brother Farai is on a scholarship at French Top 14 side Castres Olympic Rugby Club, praised his predecessor Leitao, who is widely regarded as one of the best Zimbabwean rugby players of the modern era.
“I have big boots to fill. Jacques has been a great ambassador for Zimbabwe 7s rugby and has led the team brilliantly. I would like to carry on from where he left off and see us being more consistent in our performances as a team.”
Mudariki attended Heritage Junior and St John’s Prep for his primary education, but it was at the elite Michaelhouse College in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, where he grew into a complete rugby player, playing for the school’s first XV side for two years.
He also had a stint in the UK where he played for Amersham & Chiltern, a National League Three South West club.
Mudariki’s leadership skills were, however, evident from the early stage in his career when in 2011 he was chosen to captain the Zimbabwe Under-20 side for two youth Tests against Tunisia in Harare.
Mudariki’s first task will be to lead the Cheetahs on their return to the Safari Sevens, a crucial tournament in the lead-up to the Rio Olympic Games qualifiers in November.
“We have one more tournament before the Olympic qualifiers which we have been working hard for over the last few months. That’s the big one for us. It is every sportsman’s dream to be part of the Olympics so we will work hard towards that,” he said.
The Cheetahs head to Kenya after a fruitful weekend at the Safland Windhoek Sevens in Namibia where they lost 24-0 in the final to a very strong South Africa Sevens Academy side.
The competition is, however, expected to get tougher in Kenya where a stronger line-up is expected for the two-day competition which will also feature the likes of Argentina, Italy, Spain and Rio 2016 Olympic hosts Brazil.
Zimbabwe’s participation at the Safari Sevens gives Cheetahs head coach Danny Hondo another opportunity to fine-tune their preparations for the Rio Olympic qualifiers which will take place from November 14-16 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Hondo is expected to name the final 12-man travelling squad today.