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Rugby | SuperSport Rugby Challenge

Another 'Beast' lurks in SuperSport Rugby Challenge



At 15, most young players tend to have posters of the players they look up to plastered all over their bedrooms. Stephen Bhasera came into possession of the test jersey of one of his heroes at that age.

Said hero was one Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira, and the circumstances that led to the Xerox Golden Lions’ SuperSport Rugby Challenge prop getting a Springbok jersey from the soon-to-be 100 test-cap Mtawarira’s sixth test match (against Australia in Durban in 2008) were pretty serendipitous.

The 22-year-old from Kadoma, in Zimbabwe, takes up the story: “My parents are preachers and we’d gone to a church conference. At the conference we met one of Beast’s relatives and, for some reason, he had his jersey in his car and ended up giving it to me.”

The jersey is still a cherished possession to Bhasera – he keeps it packed away in a suitcase in his room at res at the University of Johannesburg – a Springbok memento from when he was a little boy watching them win the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

With Mtawarira set to earn his hundredth cap for the Boks against England on Saturday, the jersey just got even more meaningful: “He’s an inspiration to me in more ways than I can say. He’s paved the way for the rest of us and he was also from our rival school (Mtawarira went to Peter House and Bhasera was headboy at Falcon in 2014).

“I was in Grade seven when he got his first cap in 2008, Brian Mujati did too but he didn’t survive as long – Beast’s longevity has been such an inspiration. The day he destroyed Phil Vickery against the British and Irish Lions is etched in my mind. Also he started out as an eight, which I also did...”

Like most fans, Bhasera’s meeting with his hero a few years ago wasn’t exactly epic for the overawed youngster: “I was playing for the under-19s and the Boks were training at St Peter’s. We held shields for them and they ran at us, and when we were at a lineout I tried to crack a joke with him in Shona, he answered and that was pretty much it.”

TRANSFORMATION FROM TIGHTHEAD TO LOOSEHEAD

Bhasera may only be at the beginning of his career, but he, too, like Mtawarira, has had to work out of his socks to get into the Lions’ Rugby Challenge squad as a loosehead prop. Once a schoolboy tighthead standing at 1.81m and weighing 117kg, Bhasera now considers himself a loosehead.

“I was a good tighthead at school even though the coaching wasn’t as specialised because there was no competition. The first two years when I got here were purely just catching up as the other kids were scrumming me.

“But I’ve been working hard with (Lions forwards coach) Wessel Roux, and because I’m mobile and love running with the ball I lost weight to around 108kg. Moving from loosehead to tighthead can be like trying to write left-handed and right-handed, but it’s easier the other way and I’m now a loosehead.”

IT'S A BUSY LIFE

Finding his niche isn’t the only thing that has kept Bhasera busy. Studying for a law degree as well as building a rugby career has been trying, even for an academic overachiever like Bhasera. When in matric, Bhasera passed his Cambridge University entrance exams with flying colours in history, English literature and Geography.

For the latter he scored the highest marks in the world for Cambridge applicants that year. But even he is finding combining his studies with his budding career trying: “I’m in fourth year of my LLB now and I’m hoping to do a masters degree in corporate or financial law if I don’t get a Super Rugby contract (if he does he'll take a break).

“Unlike other sportsmen I've kept all my subjects and I’m still passing. It’s been a tough balancing act but I’ve put in the hours. Last month I wrote three exams in six days and on the last one I actually delayed the team bus to our last game against the Pumas.

“I studied all the way to Nelspruit, got off the bus and played, then I studied all the way back for a Monday exam. It was so tough I asked not to be considered for the game, but the coaches insisted.”

NO ORDINARY PROP

As his academic decorations suggest, Bhasera is no ordinary player or prop. Besides studying for a complex degree and having to get to grips with the really tricky stuff in life like the hit, cranking the bind and scrumming on the angle in the front row, Bhasera loves his reading.

Judging by his favourite books, Les Miserables and War and Peace, the longer the book the keener he is. He is also something of a history buff, gleefully dispensing such obscure facts like “there have been more biographies written about Napoleon Bonaparte than there have been days since his death”.

Thank goodness they moved him from tighthead, because they clearly don’t make props like they used to.



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