ZIMBABWEAN rugby player Hilton Kamanda is edging closer to a big career breakthrough in South Africa after earning selection to the Currie Cup First Division side South Western Districts (SWD) Eagles ahead of the new season.
Kamanda was rewarded for his consistency at the top Cape Town-based club Progress RFC with a call-up to the SWD Eagles side, which played against the top South African side Stormers in a high-profile pre-season friendly match at Outeniqua Park in George on Friday.
The powerfully built Mufakose-bred rising rugby star, who has been turning heads on the Cape Town club circuit with his strong ball carries and dominance at the breakdown was named as one of the starting locks in the SWD Eagles side.
Although Kamanda’s side was on the losing end on Friday, the fact that he was deemed good enough to earn a starting berth in the SWD Eagles' starting line-up for the high-profile match against the Stormers is a very big endorsement for the Zimbabwean player.
The talent-laden Stormers were early this year crowned the inaugural winners of the United Rugby Championship, an annual rugby union competition involving professional teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland, South Africa, and Wales.
This coming season, the Stormers will also participate in a second competition, the Champions Cup.
After the match with the Stormers, Kamanda is expected to feature in more preseason matches for the SWD Eagles with high hopes of being offered a contract by the George-based outfit or other provincial sides in South Africa.
The highly ambitious and confident player, who harbours ambitions of not only rising to the top echelons of provincial rugby in South Africa but also to play Test rugby for the Sables said the opportunity to play for SWD Eagles had left him with a stronger determination to succeed.
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“This year has been a great year for my career not only because I have been having a good season at my club Progress, but also because I was officially called up to the SWD Eagles side.
"My first game for them was against DHL Stormers on Friday and even though we lost the match I believe getting exposure at this level will serve me well in my career as I aim higher,” Kamanda said in an interview with The Sports Hub.
One of the few rugby players to come out of the high-density suburb of Mufakose, Kamanda got his introduction to the sport at Mufakose High 1 where he in addition to playing rugby also played football while competing in shot put as well during the track and field season.
He first got his first taste of local club rugby at Mufakose Swallows, which is famed for producing former Sables scrumhalf Tich Chidongo.
After impressing at his boyhood club, Kamanda then moved to Harare Sports Club in 2015, playing a pivotal role in Sportivo’s dominance on the domestic circuit before earning selection into Zimbabwe’s development squad which toured Zambia in 2018.
“After I moved to Sportivo it didn't take me time to find my spot in the first team as a loose forward. Thereafter I was called to represent my country for Zimbabwe A. During my seven-year career at Harare Sports Club we only lost the league twice and won it five times. My last season with the club in 2018 was a memorable one as we completed the campaign unbeaten,” he said.
“Playing in Zimbabwe’s domestic league made me the player I am now. It was always physically hard and mentally challenging when playing teams like Old Georgians and Old Hararians because they are also two of the best teams in the country.”
In 2019, Kamanda, with the help of the then Harare Sports Club head coach Danny Hondo, completed a move to the Western Cape-based outfit Progress RFC.
His initial spell at the side was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing suspension of sporting activities but since club rugby resumed in South Africa, Kamanda has been one of the top performers at his club.
“I have been enjoying my rugby at Progress, who are one of the top-rated clubs in the province and we are currently third on the log. It's been a great experience and I have been using the experience to learn as much as I can so that I can continue becoming a better player. I have had the opportunity to be coached by one of the best coaches in the country at club and provincial level, that is, the former springbok fullback Zane Kirchner,” he said.
The 29-year-old Kamanda hopes the strides he has been making in South Africa will be enough for him to finally earn selection to the Sables squad after coming close in 2018 when he was part of former head coach Peter de Villiers's training squad.
“Playing for the Sables would be a massive honor. I would love to represent my motherland country Zimbabwe if the opportunity comes at the moment all I can do is to continue doing well at my club,” he added.