The Sunday Mail
Looking back now, there were moments when Tafadzwa Mhende was on the shelf and he wondered if he would ever walk again, let alone play rugby.
And if so, would it be worth it?
Well, the answer to both is a resounding yes, as the rugby gods took pity on this Harare Sports Club Centre and now he has the option to go out on his own terms.
After all, he is 35-years-old.
“Yes I’m 35 years old now and this will be my final year,” said Mhende as he declare his plans to retire at the end of the season.
“I feel very blessed to have been given the opportunity to come back and be able to call it quits on my own terms.
“I owe a lot to my coaches Daniel Hondo and Peter De Villiers who have given this opportunity this year, he said.
Now, Mhende’s story is not your run of the mill comeback fairy-tale and for one to fully understand the gravity of his situation one will have to go back eight years.
Mhende injured his knee while on national duty with the Zimbabwe Cheetahs, on tour in Zambia, returning home with a shattered knee.
“My memory is still fuzzy about the whole incident, after all it was some eight years ago,” said Harare Sports Club winger.
“All I remember is that we (Cheetahs) were in the final of the Castle Sevens tournament in Zambia, with about three minutes to go in the game.
“I received the ball and hightailed it for the try line.
“Next thing I knew, I was down and in excruciating pain,” he said.
The initial prognosis was that he may never walk, let alone run or play rugby again.
“Both my fibia and tibia came out and they told me coming back from this was next to impossible.
“Usually they use what they call external fixators to put the bones together and I was supposed to have a metal plate put in to help my leg heal.
“They didn’t put either one, it was just bone to bone,” he said.
What came next was six months of gruelling rehab, after which the former Kutama College speedster put his rugby career on ice for about three years.
“I think my rehab took something like six months and this entailed mostly physiotherapy, acupuncture, light gym work and plenty of running on the bad leg to aid in the healing,” he said.
After all the surgeries, the crutches, the gruelling rehab sessions and the self-doubt — Mhende did return to the pitch back.
First as a coach and then back to playing round about 2015.
He even went to earna couple of national team call-ups with both the Cheetahs (2016) and most recently the Zimbabwe Sables whom he is currently with in Bulawayo.
“2018 has been quite a surreal year for me,” said Mhende.
“When the year began I had no intentions of playing and only did so when it became apparent that we might fail to make the required numbers at my club Harare Sports Cub.
“I missed the first two games and was on hand to play against Old Georgians, which was about the time I caught the eye of Sables coach Peter De Villiers.
“He told me that he wanted me in his side and I couldn’t say no to an offer like that,” he said.
Sadly, the Sables Gold Cup campaign did not go according to plan as the team has already failed to qualify for next year’s Rugby World Cup and is currently staring at the threat relegation.
“Admittedly, results have not gone our way, but I think it’s more to do with the fact that we have been mostly unlucky rather than being outplayed.
“It’s a young team, lacking in experience but the hope is that we will gel soon as a unit and results will start trickling in,” he said.
With the World Cup dream now a thing of the past, Mhende’s remaining solace comes at club level.
Ironically at another Gold Club tournament.
Harare Sports Club will be the country’s representative at this year’s South Africa Rugby Union (SARU) Gold Cup.
The dates and fixtures are yet to be officially released, but that hasn’t stopped the Sportivo Center from dreaming of his ideal send off.
“For me to be in this position, after I didn’t even plan on playing this year, I feel blessed,” said Mhende.
“We (Sportivo) have put in the hard work with everyone chipping in and the results speak for themselves.
“We are unbeaten and will look to end the season on a high with a solid outing at the SARU Gold Cup,” he said.