Tsimba's struggle to the top

HARARE - Fifteen years ago, Kennedy Tsimba set off on a journey to South Africa armed with only bag of clothes and a pair of rugby boots.

His desire was to search for an opportunity to play competitive rugby at the highest level and prove a point that he was not riding on the backdrop of his brother, Richard’s fame.

Richard the elder of the two was the first black player to represent Zimbabwe in international rugby and played in two Rugby World Cups for the country in 1987 and 1991.

The late Richard was gifted with skill and sheer pace. He made his debut in the 1987 Rugby World Cup against Romania and scored a try.

Kennedy would later inherit the same attributes and made sure the legacy remained in the Tsimba family.

“When I left Harare in 2000, I went to South Africa with just a bag and a pair of rugby boots because as you know I played in Zimbabwe and a lot of them said ‘I was too small to play rugby’,” Tsimba told the Daily News.

“It was also very difficult because my brother had made a name for himself here so they were saying that ‘I was only playing because of my brother’.

“So the best way to show that I wasn’t riding under somebody else was to go to one of the strongest rugby playing countries in the world and try to make it there.”

The move would soon pay dividends for the then 26-year-old Zimbabwean native and six months down the line he was already a household name across the Limpopo where he was given the name “King of Bloemfontein.”

“I went to a city that I didn’t know where it was,” he added. “I got there in Bloemfontein and a dream turned into reality and from there within six months they called me the ‘King of Bloemfontein’,” he said.

“They even wanted me to play for the Springboks so that just shows you dreams can materialise if you persist and keep on working on your craft.”

The Zimbabwe rugby legendary brothers were honoured by the International Rugby Board by being inducted into the IRB Hall of fame in October 2012.

Richard was inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumously after his tragic death in a car accident aged only 34.

“South Africa is one of the strongest rugby playing nations in the world and there are four players in the Hall of Fame,” he said.

“So for Richard and I to be the first blacks in that Hall of Fame in a sport that is not seen as a black man’s sport is one of the privileges I have ever had in rugby.”

The “King of Bloemfontein” was the first black player to captain Zimbabwe after taking over from Brendan Dawson.

He played as a flyhalf and had just four Sables caps when he decided to try his luck abroad.

Tsimba broke the Free State point-scoring record for the Cheetahs when he scored 228 points in a season and was named the Currie Cup Payer of the Year in 2002 and 2008.

He also holds the South African record for the fastest player in first class history to reach 1000 points.

Tsimba is also an Afro-Pop musician; he is involved in charitable work and is also the founder of the South African branch of ‘Rugby Without Borders’, a non-governmental organisation that helps the less fortunate.

The rugby legend said Zimbabwe ranked almost at par with South Africa but the country is failing to make use of its strong schoolboy rugby competition.

“I think the gap is not as big as people think. We have got very good schoolboys, the only problem is that there’s a gap between after school and what happens with the boys that stay in Zimbabwe,” he said.

“We are not talking about the ones that go to universities overseas but the ones that after playing rugby they have to go and work (non-professional players). We need to look after those boys because we do have talent at schools.

“I played in South Africa and I know that we have better schoolboy players than they have.”

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