CAPE TOWN – After the Springboks had lost 57-0 to the All Blacks, followed by defeats to Ireland and Wales on the end-of-year tour, Tendai Mtawarira was ready to call it a day.
At that time, the Zimbabwean-born loosehead prop was 32, had played over 90 Tests and could probably pick any European or Japanese club for a lucrative final pay-day before retiring altogether.
But the arrival of Rassie Erasmus in 2018 changed his mind, and he made the call to carry on until the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Mtawarira’s part in the Boks’ road to glory in Japan last year will be encapsulated in the special series Chasing The Sun, which will premiere on M-Net at 6pm on Sunday.
The five-part documentary will give viewers a unique insight into the Boks’ journey from also-rans in 2017 to pulling off a third World Cup triumph last year.
And former Sharks stalwart Mtawarira nearly missed out on it.
“It was a dark time for Springbok rugby, and being a senior player myself, I took it very personally that we were not producing on the field, and the Springbok brand stood for excellence. We were falling very short of that standard, and it was very personal for me,” the now-retired front-ranker said.
“I had sleepless nights during those two years. It was tough to walk around the streets and meet people in the street because you just felt like you were disappointing everybody. You were not performing like you should.
“At that point, I was contemplating retiring – I thought about it, that this was probably it. At the end of 2017, I really wanted to call it.
“I think Bryan (Habana) probably finished at the same time, and we were having a meeting with Allister (Coetzee) after one of the Test matches, and I just thought things needed to change.
“There were a lot of problems and we were not a happy camp, and I did not stand for what was going on. Then, fortunately, Rassie came into the picture at the beginning of 2018, and that was probably the moment where I decided – after I sat down with them – that I was going to give it my last shot Give it everything I had to try and make that World Cup squad – and actually win the World Cup.
“For me, that was probably the very last thing I wanted to achieve in rugby, was to win a World Cup, and I was so highly motivated. Rassie coming in just gave me that confidence to give that one last shot.”
Mtawarira felt that the moment Makazole Mapimpi scored his try had secured the title for the Boks, and capped a memorable end to his international career.
“It was incredible, truly amazing – it’s actually difficult to put it into words,” he said.
“We started from a place where there was no hope. A lot of people had lost faith in the Springboks, and Rassie came on board and we started on this road to redemption.”
“We tried to get back to becoming a Tier 1 nation again It was quite daunting, and Rassie took everybody on this journey – not just the players, but the management and everybody just bought into it. At the end, we were full of joy, and winning the World Cup was just the cherry on the cake.”