Tendai Mtawarira was able to call it a day, after the Springboks lost 57-0 to the All Blacks, followed by defeats to Ireland and Wales on their end-of-year tour.
The Zimbabwean-born loosehead prop was 32 at the time, had played over 90 tests, and could possibly choose any European or Japanese club before retiring altogether for a lucrative final pay-day.
But Rassie Erasmus ‘s arrival in 2018 changed his mind, and he made the decision to stay until the Rugby World Cup in 2019.
The role of Mtawarira in last year’s Boks’ path to glory in Japan will be encapsulated in the special series Chasing The Sun, which will premiere on Sunday at 6 pm on M-Net.
The five-part documentary will give viewers a unique insight into the journey of the Boks from also-rans in 2017 to pulling off last year’s third World Cup title.
And it was almost missed out on by former Sharks stalwart Mtawarira.
For Springbok rugby, it was a dark time and being a senior player myself, I took it very personally that we were not delivering on the field and the name of Springbok stood for excellence. “The now-retired front-ranker said,” We were falling far short of that norm and it was very personal for me.
“During those two years, I had sleepless nights. Walking around the streets and meeting people on the street was difficult because you just felt like you were disappointing everybody. You didn’t do as you should have.
We had a lot of trouble, and we weren’t a happy camp, and I didn’t stand up for what was happening. Then, luckily, at the beginning of 2018, Rassie came into the picture, and that was probably the moment when, after I sat down with them, I decided that I was going to give it my last shot, give it everything I had to try and make the World Cup team, and win the World Cup.
For me, the very last thing I wanted to do in rugby was probably to win the World Cup, and I was so inspired. Coming in, Rassie just gave me the courage to give it one more shot.
Mtawarira felt that it had sealed the title for the Boks and capped a memorable end to his international career the moment Makazole Mapimpi scored his try.
“It was incredible, incredible indeed; it’s honestly hard to put it into words,” he said.
We’ve been trying to get back to being a Tier 1 country. It was pretty overwhelming, and Rassie was taking everyone on this trip, not just the players, but the management and everyone just bought into it. We were overflowing with joy at the end, and winning the World Cup was just the cherry on the cake.