Not even a return to France to join Pro D2 outfit USON Nevers on an initial short-term deal was enough to convince the sceptics, who feared his best days were now behind him after a luckless run of injuries in England.
Now just over a year since leaving Worcester, Mudariki is reminding local rugby fans why he was once touted as one of the country’s finest rugby exports in recent years with some splendid displays in somewhat of a renaissance in the French second tier.
A fierce ball carrier in broken play and strong in the scrum, Mudariki has been one of the first names on the USON Nevers team sheet this term and a major driving force in the club’s strong push for a top four finish.
Mudariki, who was rewarded with a two-year contract extension with French second-tier club in June last year said he is grateful to the faith shown in him by USON Nevers Rugby club when he initially joined the club after a spell on the side-lines in England.
“It’s gone really well thus far,” Mudariki, who is the younger brother of Sables captain Hilton, said in an interview with The Sports Hub from France.
“Initially I came here for the last five games of the previous season, but coming into this campaign from pre-season all the way to the games I have felt really comfortable here. The team and the coaches have put a lot of faith in me. Even though things didn’t go as planned in Worcester, I didn’t play much rugby during the two years I spent there. But them (USON Nevers) taking all that into consideration and still putting a lot of faith in me and my ability is a true testament of the type of club it is,” he said.
🤝 Farai MUDARIKI reste parmi les Jaunets ! 🟡🔵 pic.twitter.com/JtXGkXyOCy
— USON NEVERS RUGBY (@usonneversrugby) May 31, 2021
After finishing eighth last season, USON Nevers are currently fifth on the 16 team log standings and just two points behind third placed Colomiers.
During that good run in the league, Mudariki has managed to assert himself as the first-choice tight head prop at the club ahead of his French teammates Aselo Ikahehegi and Oktay Yilmaz.
The 27-year-old star’s strong campaign is also one of the main reasons USON Nevers scouted for his compatriot Cleopas Kundiona, who will join the club ahead of the start of next season from French third tier side Stade Olympique Chambérien.
“I’m just happy to be in a team that is setting very high standards for themselves week in week out. We are really going at it to try and finish fourth and so far, it’s looking good. We are hitting our targets and it’s a good team to be a part of. During preseason I felt that there was something brewing and it’s a good team to be a part of this season,” he said.
Mudariki attributed his seamless transition to French rugby to his previous stint in the European country.
The former Zimbabwe Under-20 captain spent two years on the academy roster of Top 14 club Olympique Castres where he honed his skills alongside his current teammate Kylian Jaminet.
He also had a short stint at French third-tier side Tarbes Pyrénées Rugby in 2018 before sealing his big move to Worcester.
“I just went back into the French way of doing things and obviously it came more natural to me having spent a couple of years in France already but not at this level. The Pro D2 is a very underrated competition I would say. Week in, week out especially in the packs, forwards you don’t have an easy game, every team has a strong forward pack so it’s a challenge each and every week which you have to prepare for,” Mudariki said.
He added: “Also the transition back to France was easier because of the language I managed to keep my knowledge of the language. When I was in England, I managed to keep in touch with most of the friends I made during my previous three years at Castres and we would communicate in French.”
Mudariki is expected to play a pivotal role in Zimbabwe’s bid to qualify for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
The Sables need to win the 2022 Rugby Africa Cup, which doubles as the final round of Rugby World Cup 2023 qualifying for teams on the continent to book an automatic ticket to the World Cup.
The qualifying tournament will be held at Stade Maurice-David in Aix-en-Provence and Stade Pierre-Delort in Marseille from July 1-10.