The beast is 150 not out

South African rugby legend Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira isn’t the type of bloke you let down.

Not when it’s his 150th Super Rugby game for the Sharks, which he is set to bring up in tomorrow’s quarterfinal against the top-seeded Crusaders in Christchurch.

The Durban-based outfit are massive outsiders taking on a red-hot Crusaders side on a 12-game winning run.

Captain Ruan Botha won’t need to look his team-mates in the eyes and remind them about the importance of putting in a memorable shift for Mtawarira. The loosehead prop, 32, is hugely respected not just in South Africa, where he brought up his 100th test for the Springboks in June against England, but across world rugby.

He’s held in such high regard, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa rang to congratulate him before celebrating that achievement.

Mtawarira is a humble figure and doesn’t want Saturday night to be about him. The Sharks are desperate to deliver a performance he can be proud of.

“The Beast is like a landmine. He’s quiet, but when he talks he’s a big explosion,” Botha quipped after their first training run on Wednesday since arriving in Christchurch.

“He’s a big inspiration to this team. Having him on our side with his professionalism and the way he approaches the game is just a bonus for this team.”

Zimbabwe-born Mtawarira debuted for the Sharks in 2007 and has been a hit since then with his powerful ball carrying, sturdy scrummaging and uncompromising demeanour.

Testing himself against the Crusaders’ front row had always been a measuring stick, he said.

“They’re very tough. I have massive respect for a guy like Owen Franks. We’ve been bumping heads for a long time now. I think [former Crusader and All Blacks prop] Greg Somerville, he taught me a few lessons when I started playing for the Boks.”

The Sharks realise they have nothing to lose against a Crusaders side many have anointed as Super Rugby champions in waiting.

They arrived late in Christchurch on Monday night following three flights and a journey of more than 13,000 kilometres. It has been an inconsistent campaign for the Sharks, who snuck into the finals with a seven win-eight loss record and a draw.

While the vagaries of Super Rugby’s schedule mean they haven’t faced the Crusaders since 2016, the Sharks do have a decent record against Kiwi opposition this year.

South African sides traditionally struggle in New Zealand, but the Sharks thumped the bumbling Blues 63-40 at Eden Park in March.

The Hurricanes needed a late try from Ngani Laumape and a winning conversion from Ihaia West to prevail 38-37 in Napier.

They’ve also toppled the Highlanders (38-12) and under-strength Chiefs (28-24) in Durban, so warrant respect.

“I think we’ve shown signs of greatness in this side, but obviously we’ve let ourselves down at particular points of the season,” Mtawarira said.

“I think as a team we’re growing. This side is coming of age. I think this weekend is an opportunity to show what we’re capable of.”

Mtawarira is one of only a sprinkling of survivors from the last Sharks’ team to stun the Crusaders at AMI Stadium in 2014. Playing with 14 men for the bulk of the contest after loose forward Jean Deysel was sent off in the 17th minute for a stamp on the face of Jordan Taufua, the Sharks held on 30-25.

They were down to 13 late in the game with loose forward Willem Alberts also in the sin-bin.

“It was quite a special day. I’ll never forget it. I think we really fought hard as a team and we didn’t stop believing.”

Mtawarira’s message to the young Sharks is a simple one for tomorrow.

“Chances like this don’t come too often . . . so you must embrace the challenge. Yes, we’re playing against the best team in the competition, but if you put on your best performance we’ll see what happens.” —