A great Zimbabwe rugby servant

HARARE - Rugby was not his first chosen sport, but at 22, Brighton Chivandire was already earning his third test cap for Zimbabwe against Wales.

The powerful lock went on to earn 55 tests for the Sables, five for Zimbabwe Under-23 as well as playing in several Goshawks and President’s XV games.

Chivandire, remarkably, did not play the sport in both primary and secondary school.

He first tried a hand at rugby at Lord Malvern High School in Harare but then suffered a fractured shoulder in only his second training session.

The injury prompted Chivandire’s family to bar their teenager from ever stepping foot onto a rugby field.

Three years later, young Brighton rebelled against the ban and rekindled his love for the game that would later give him a career.

“I was 18 when I started playing rugby, two training sessions and five minutes game time, that was it,” Chivandire tells the Daily News.

“I got injured and was banned by my brother from anything to do with rugby only to come back at 21.”

While serving his family ban from rugby, Chivandire took up basketball and excelled for Chaka Warriors in the National Basketball League, but rugby remained a burning passion for him.

As a young adult, he lived and worked in Bulawayo, where he first had contact with club rugby.

“I lived very close to Busters Rugby Club. So on my way to work I would see these guys training and when I was coming from basketball matches I would pass through Hartsfield Ground,” he says.

“Rugby was more physical and had more people watching it. I was always going to switch sports.”

Chivandire went on to play for Busters in 1990 but without any prior playing experience it was always going to be difficult to make an instant impact.

“Remember I didn’t have a rugby background. I had only practised two sessions of about one hour each and had five minutes of glory so when I got there they asked me ‘how much have you played?’,” he recalls.

“Fortunately, the coaches realised I had the potential to become a good second rower. I had the frame. I didn’t understand ball drills but my handling was great because I was a basketball player.

“In 1991, there was that World Cup, the majority of Matabeleland players were at the World Cup so I was drafted into the Matabeleland provincial side. It came as a surprise.

“The following year, I came out for trials for Zim Under-23 never having played Zim Schools. In the end, I was the number four player to be called out. From nowhere, in a sport I had only played one year.  We went on to play five tests that year.

“Bakkie Buchanan (then Sables coach) came to watch a match between Busters and Old Hararians.  I was playing number eight. After the game he said to me ‘you are the next Zimbabwe lock’.

“He handed me a letter to say Tuesday I was in the Zimbabwe team to play against England North. This is me coming from high school, going on to play cameo roles for Busters and next thing I am playing for Zimbabwe, at 22!”

He would stay at Busters for another six years before moving to Clifton Rugby Club in Bristol, England, between 1997 and 1998.

“You can’t get used to the cold,” he says of his short stint in Bristol. “I came back to Zim, played for Harare Sports Club.”

At Harare Sports Club, he would team up with such fine players as the Kennedy Tsimba, Zimbabwe’s first black rugby captain and once considered the best flyhalf on the planet, and ex-Sables start centre John Ewing.

He subsequently moved to Old Hararians where achieved greater success, helping the Milton Park-based side win several domestic rugby titles.

At OH, he played with different generations of Zimbabwean rugby stars; Willard Muchena, Reginald Chigumira, Rocky Gurumani, Clint Joseph (now Robinson), Basil Dingiswayo, Costa Dinha, Rodney Cloete, Jackson Muzawazi, Shaun De Souza, Tich “Banja” Chidongo, Damien Webb (British national), Edmore Takaendesa, James Nyatanga, Gerald Kambadza, Mzi Nyathi, Golden Chademana, Victor Zimbawo, Michael Katai (late), Michael Searing, Alfred Sairai, Colin Bakasa, Eric Noble, Prayer Chitenderu, Tonderai Mapunde, Munya Mhonda (who now captains Botswana), Daniel “Madness” Macheke — among an array of red-hot rugby talent.

He played most of his games for OH under Brian Murphy, John Falkenberg and later Godwin “Jaws” Murambiwa, and Chivandire himself would later coach the club.

“I wanted to retire in 2000, but my friend Godwin (Murambiwa) said you are not going to do that so I continued for two years until 2002.

“After the Namibia game when we failed to qualify for the World Cup I was never going to play rugby again.”

Chivandire has been coaching since then but looks back at his Sables stint in 2004 as probably his most frustrating coaching spell.

“I was frustrated. You should never start at the top. From a winning ratio, it was good. But I was frustrated. I didn’t last, I was fired,” he says.

“I went back into coaching in 2006 as assistant coach to the Under-19 and we went on to win the Junior Africa Championships in Morocco to qualify for the Junior World Rugby Trophy in Belfast. That was the start of a beautiful journey with the juniors.”

Chivandire is currently the Zimbabwe Rugby Union technical director, having taken over the position from Liam Middleton late last year.

“I have done my bit, I have served my nation. Why not really? That’s the question that rang in my mind and persuaded me to apply.”

Chivandire says he has seen the game change over the years.

“The laws have changed the game completely, too much control. Then, if you used hands in the ruck you leant the hard way, broken fingers.

“Stomping was perfectly legal. Today, the ref tells you to take hands off. Making contact with player in the air is a no today, yet back then that tactic was used to eliminate specific players from the opposition.”

Chivandire says last year’s failed World Cup campaign was the lowest point of his life.

“The moment I turned my head to see (flyhalf Guy) Cronje lining up to take a kick at posts against Kenya in Madagascar last year tops it,” he says.

“The other is the 23-20 loss to Namibia after leading 20-8 with eight minutes to play in 2007 in Kampala and failing to qualify for the JWRT. The other was the close loss to Japan at JWRT in USA, 2012.”

Comments (1)

last year's failure to appear in this year's world cup was Liam Middleton's error. He is the one who instructed Cronje to go for the posts. Goodness he left! All the best Brighton in your new post

Gamatox - 1 February 2015

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