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Springboks prop Mtawarira retires after Rugby World Cup win

November 6, 2019
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South Africa's Tendai Mtawarira reacts winning the Rugby World Cup final at International Yokohama Stadium against England in Yokohama, Japan, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
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South Africa's Tendai Mtawarira reacts winning the Rugby World Cup final at International Yokohama Stadium against England in Yokohama, Japan, Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Tendai Mtawarira, the South Africa prop affectionately known as “Beast,” retired from international rugby on Wednesday, four days after winning the World Cup.

The 34-year-old Mtawarira leaves as the Springboks’ most capped prop with 117 test appearances, and as the Boks’ third most capped player behind Victor Matfield and Bryan Habana.

Born in Zimbabwe, Mtawarira moved to South Africa as a teenager with little more than a bag of clothes, a pair of old rugby boots, and a dream of becoming a professional player.

He played for the Springboks for more than a decade and won two southern hemisphere titles, a series against the British and Irish Lions, and the Rugby World Cup in his last test — just about everything a Springboks player can win.

He also collected three Currie Cup titles in South Africa with the Durban-based Sharks, the club he’s been at ever since turning professional.

Mtawarira put in a mean scrumming display against England in Saturday’s World Cup final in Japan to help the Springboks to a third title. Mtawarira made his debut for the Boks in 2008, the year after they last won the World Cup, and had to wait until right at the end of his career for his crowning moment. He’ll spend five more days with the Springboks while they take the Rugby World Cup trophy on a tour of South Africa.

“I’ve been blessed to have been part of teams that achieved so much success over the years, and I have many memories to cherish forever,” Mtawarira said in his retirement announcement, “but I can honestly say that winning the Rugby World Cup is the perfect ending and cherry on top.”

Mtawarira was a fan favorite in South Africa for his rampaging displays and also his humble and often gentle off-field persona.

Bismarck du Plessis, Mtawarira’s former front-row teammate with the Sharks and the Springboks, wrote a newspaper article about Mtawarira after Saturday’s World Cup final. In it, du Plessis recalled the time when a hopeful Mtawarira arrived at a Sharks training session 15 years ago.

“He was 19 then and as far as I could see all his possessions were in a small kit bag,” du Plessis wrote. “His boots were worn and torn. For his first two years he walked to training. Then he got himself a bike.”

Mtawarira was a “big hearted warrior,” du Plessis wrote.

Du Plessis also revealed the secret behind one of Mtawarira’s most dominant scrumming displays in the early part of his career, when he drove experienced England prop Phil Vickery up and out of a scrum during a particularly powerful showing in the first test against the British and Irish Lions in 2009. One of the reasons for Mtawarira’s performance that day, according to du Plessis, was that his family were visiting from Zimbabwe and had brought a girl with them to the game that Mtawarira wanted to impress.

The girl, Kuziva, is now his wife.

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