HARARE – So chuffed by his maiden Zimbabwe national rugby team call-up that scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki was the first of the foreign-based contingent to arrive in the country this week ahead of next month’s tri-nation series in Namibia.
The 21-year-old halfback, a second-year Sports Psychology student at Bucks New University in England, has welcomed the opportunity to make his senior debut for Zimbabwe when the Sables travel to Windhoek for the three-team contest against the hosts and Kenya, starting on November 8.
TRY TIME: Hilton Mudariki scores for Amersham & Chilten in a recent league match in England.
Though a product of the South African high school system, having been groomed at the elite Michaelhouse College in KwaZulu Natal, Mudariki is no stranger to Zimbabwean representative rugby. His leadership skills were evident early in his career and in 2011 he was chosen captain of a Zimbabwe Under-20 side for two youth tests against Tunisia in Harare.
He has also played a handful of games for the Zimbabwe Sevens team, but it is the opportunity of earning his first test cap for the number one team, the Sables, and the prospect of playing in the 2015 World Cup, which excites the Harare-born rising star.
“I got a call from the coach (Brendan Dawson), asking me if I was available,” Mudariki tells the Daily News.
“I am happy with the opportunity to play senior rugby for Zimbabwe. The next few months are pretty exciting for Zim rugby, starting with the tournament in Namibia, the (World Cup) qualifiers next year and hopefully the World Cup in 2015. It’s an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.”
Mudariki is currently in his second season with his Amersham & Chiltern, a National League Three South West club with the enviable distinction of being the second most successful club in the Buckinghamshire county, second only to Premiership side London Wasps.
“I have had a good start to the season,” he says. “When I first came to England I didn’t have any reputation there. I had to start from the lower leagues and I have to say there has been massive improvement in my game.
“The season started two months ago, and we have done quite well. I kick for poles as well, my kicking has really improved.”
With Zimbabwe often struggling from the kicking tee in recent times, Mudariki has eyed that role once he establishes himself in the side.
“Definitely, I will put my hand up and strive to become the first-choice kicker for the Sables,” he says.
A keen sportsman from a tender age, the youngster went to Heritage Junior and St John’s Prep for his primary education, but Michaelhouse made him a complete rugby player when enrolled there for senior school, playing first XV rugby for two years.
“My rugby took off when I went to Michaelhouse and when I moved to scrumhalf. I had played fly-half all my life. I made the Western Province squad for the Craven Week. I got contracted to Western Province when I was leaving school and I played Under-19 Currie Cup for them.”
Mudariki would later move over to the UK in pursuit of new challenges, where he currently juggles his university studies with playing for Amersham & Chiltern.
The composition of the Sables squad also delights Mudariki. Zimbabwe lost their Africa Cup title to Kenya in June, and Namibia have always proved a hard nut to crack for the Sables. But touring with a much stronger side that the one which lost to the Kenyans in Madagascar, Mudariki believes it is hosts Namibia who are Zimbabwe’s rivals and peers.
“I think the coaches have assembled quite a very good squad. There is a lot of youth and experience and I think this put us in good stead in Namibia as well as the qualifiers next year. The foreign-based players will add a new dimension to the team. It’s a very strong squad.
“We have the players to beat Namibia; it’s up to the players to put the work we have been putting over the last few weeks at our respective clubs.”
Mudariki also pays tribute to his mother, Winnie, the South African Airways country manager for Zimbabwe, who has been a tower of strength and support in his young career.
“She has been very supportive to me and my brother when we were young, attending every game we played in junior school,” he says. “Even when I moved to South Africa, she would come down for the big fixtures. I would not have been where I am if it wasn't for her.”