The gentle giant sleeps

17 May, 2020 - 00:05 0 Views
The gentle giant sleeps

The Sunday Mail

Tinashe Kusema
Deputy Sports Editor

One day after a routine rugby match, Sanele “Smiley” Sibanda(Pictured) and a couple of his teammates, including one Lucky Sithole, decided to make a pit-stop at a local supermarket and load up on some “carbs” (carbohydrates).

While most went straight for the snacks, the late Zimbabwe Sables lock decided to buy two loaves of bread and a tube of polony, which he squeezed together and devoured in one sitting.

“Craziest Smiley story was when we stopped at a shop in Kadoma to buy food after a game,” said Sithole, a former Old Miltonians teammate.

“The guy bought two loaves, a tube of polony and squeezed the bread together to make what he called a loaf sandwich,” he said.

Considering the man’s huge frame, this looks to have been a burden that Sanele “Smiley” Sibanda carried on his massive shoulders for most of his life, right up to his sad and tragic passing at the beginning of this month.

The former Sables lock died after a tragic car accident in the United Kingdom on May 1.

His death plunged the Zimbabwe rugby community into mourning, with friends, family and former teammates all coming out with their own stories of the ex-Sables and Hull player as they paid tribute to their colleague.

Words like humble, gentle giant, hardworking and jovial have been used to describe the late 29-year-old, who was the embodiment of the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”.

Many of the tales have been on the man’s size, with Victor Chiwara calling his first national team call-up a unique tale.

“I am still in a state of shock and actually cried myself to sleep when I first heard the news of his sad and tragic passing,” said Chiwara, a former schoolmate during their days at Plumtree.

“The first thing which comes to mind when I think of Smiley was that he was a gentle giant, fierce and menacing on the pitch, but the most jovial and easy-going person off it.

“A story that comes to mind was his call-up, where coach Brendan Dawson literally bumped into him on the streets in 2010, and was so amazed by his size that he called him in for trials.

“Soon after that he took to international rugby like a duck to water, and grew in leaps and bounds.

“He had something like 19 international caps in the space of four years.’’

Dawson was also among those that sent their condolences, during which he called his former stalwart “a gentle ferocious rugby giant”.

“Ever smiling, unassuming, passionate, humble and a vital member of the Sables set-up who cemented his position in the team with his aerial ball retention and hard-hitting runs and crunching tackles,” Dawson said.

However, Sibanda’s huge frame was just the tip of the iceberg.

Among the many things that the forward was known for are his infectious smile, love and commitment to all things rugby, and loyalty to friends and teammates.

Zimbabwe Cheetahs and Sables front-rower Bisilele Tshamala is regarded as Sibanda’s closest friend.

He described him as the best person he has ever known.

The two have a loaded history and have been teammates and rivals on the pitch countless times.

“We have been teammates starting off at high school (Plumtree), then with the Sables and College Rovers in South Africa,” he said.

“We have also been on opposite sides as he played for OMs and I was at Matabeleland Busters, then again in South Africa as he played for Durban Harlequins while I was at Varsity College.

“I remember the first time I saw him and thinking to myself ‘what a huge specimen he was’. I saw first-hand his size, talent and commitment to the sport from a teammate point of view and as an opposition.”

He also revealed details of Smiley’s goofy side, including the late Sables love for dancing, work ethic and commitment to the national team.

There was also a story or two that described how Smiley actually played a match wearing an adult diaper after a stomach bug had hit the Old Miltonians squad before a match against Old Georgians.

Godfrey Muzanarwo, a Sables and Cheetahs international, told a story that spoke of Smiley’s softer or gentler side.

“We didn’t know each other much, but he certainly left a mark on me.

“I had just been called up for the Sables during last year’s SuperSport Challenge Cup and was really nervous.

“Smiley came to my bed, where I was sitting alone nervous, and gave me a pep talk that settled my nerves.

“He would become a kind of a big brother during our time in South Africa and I owe him a lot for that,” Muzanarwo said.

Sibanda’s death came at the same time the domestic game is mourning the passing of former Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) president Dave Morgan.

Morgan was president of the ZRU between 1981 and 1983.

He returned in 1986 for a three-year stint.

He was also at the helm when the Sables made their bow at the World Cup in 1987.

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