FOR a player who only turned 21 last month, it’s remarkable that Farai Mudariki has already been capped seven times for the senior national 15s rugby team, the Sables as a tight-head prop, the most physically demanding position on the rugby pitch.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Such has been the meteoric rise of the young star, that now sees him stand on the threshold of becoming the latest Zimbabwean rugby player to join the French Top 14, the world’s richest rugby union championship.
Former Springboks tight head, Brian Mujati was the last Zimbabwe-born player to ply his trade in the French Top 14 after his two-year stay at Racing Metro.
Mudariki, who has already drawn comparisons with the Bulawayo-born Sale Sharks front rower, is currently in his second season at Castres Espoirs, the Youth Academy Team for the four-time French champions Castres Olympique Rugby.
“I am very privileged to be here. I am representing God, my family and our nation,” Mudariki told NewsDay Weekender Sport from his base in France.
“The experience has been one of the best things to ever happen in my life and I am grateful to the Zimbabwe Rugby Union, Liam Middleton and Jean-Luc Barthès (the late World rugby’s rugby services manager for Africa) for helping me get to France.
“It is very inspiring when you see some of the big names in our professional team. The likes of Sitiveni Sivivatu, Rory Kockott, Richie Gray, Remi Lamerat, Rudi Wulf, Alex Tolou and David Smith, just to mention a few. It’s very hard not to be motivated when you are under the same brand name as these stars and when you occasionally get to interact with them.
“My goal is to graduate into the pro team and play Top 14 Rugby and I know I really need to keep working hard. Also, another goal of mine will be flying the Zimbabwean flag high and give hope to those younger than me that you can be from Zimbabwe and make it. You mustn’t limit yourself in life. Anything and everything is possible.”
A keen sportsman from a tender age, Mudariki’s rugby journey started at the age of six when his brother Hilton, the current Zimbabwe Sevens rugby captain, who was nine then, introduced him to the game.
“He got me into the game and he also got me into cricket. These are the two sports I took seriously while at school. When I eventually started playing properly at school at the age of 10, I believe, I had an advantage over others guys who took time to learn basics of the game thanks to my brother,” the 1,86m tall and 110kg prop says.
Though a product of the South African high school system, having been groomed at the elite Michaelhouse College in KwaZulu Natal, Mudariki first learnt the basics of the game at St John’s Preparatory School in Harare.
After a brief stay at St John’s Preparatory School, Mudariki was sent to boarding school in South Africa, where he went to Cordwalles Preparatory School for Boys in Pietermaritzburg.
There, he excelled as a hooker, playing for the school’s first XV and the district teams in his final year.
Mudariki believes that while his stints at St John’s Prep and Cordwalles laid the platform for his budding career, it was at Michaelhouse where he was moulded into a complete rugby player.
Springboks Patrick Lambie and Patrick Cilliers both went to Michaelhouse.
“There, I was able to further develop my rugby, captaining the Under-14 A and Under-15A age group teams respectively, and playing for the Under 16A team. Injury struck me in my penultimate year. But in my final year, through hard work and determination, I represented the Michaelhouse first XV, after having started that season in the second XV,” he said.
“During that time at Michaelhouse, I played all the three positions in the front row, but I heard from coaches tight head is where my future was and I have not changed positions since.”
After his impressive performances, Mudariki made KwaZulu Natal’s side for the Under-18 Academy Week.
While he had planned to attend Varsity College in Cape Town after completing high school, fate had a different plan in store for him.
Blessed with the power, speed and tremendous ball carrying ability, Mudariki caught the eye of local selectors after a string of solid performances while playing for Old Georgians in the domestic league.
Mudariki was handed his Sables debut by former coach Brendan Dawson and in the 2014 Africa Cup competition, which served as the qualifiers for last year’s Rugby World Cup, scoring a brilliant try in his first match against Madagascar.
“I must say I did not expect to be playing international rugby at the age of 19, but I had to adapt to the situation that was handed to me. It was a great feeling playing my first game really well and also scoring a try on debut was a big moment and one I will never forget. My favourite thing about being a Sable is the brotherhood among the boys,” he says.
Featuring for the Sables has given Farai an opportunity to play alongside his brother Hilton.
“Sometimes we take such things for granted, but how often do you see brothers playing at a high level of sport together. I am so grateful to God that we have been given this opportunity. My brother and I have a three-year age gap, which meant playing together on the same team seemed almost impossible, but I really love playing with him.
It’s the best he was my first coach and he has taught me a lot about the game,” he said.