HARARE – Last week, Zimbabwe rugby star Matt McNab was signed by English second-tier rugby side Cornish Pirates, where retired fellow countryman Victor Olonga is considered a club legend following numerous breath-taking performances for the Cornwall-based team.

This has prompted Zimbabwe assistant coach Piet Benade to go down memory lane, tipping 25-year-old winger McNab to have the same kind of impact that the former Sables captain had at Pirates.

But in praising McNab’s “wide range of attacking skills”, Benade also gave hint to Pirates of what to expect from their new Zimbabwean signing in terms of off-field value and team morale.

“Matt is very much the life of the party,” Benade told SportsCast on Tuesday.

“He is a great value on any team-bus trip, where he can always be found serenading a team-mate, or being the class clown. Having these characters is great for the spirit and social connection of any group. So his value is not only huge on the field, but off it too.”

Prankster on the team-bus, yes, but an entirely different person out on the park – an extremely fierce competitor you can trust to put body on the line for the team in the most difficult situation.

“Matthew’s strength is probing the wide range of attacking weapons at his disposal,” commented Benade.

“He is pretty fast and agile for a big guy. His good running lines are something that come naturally, and he has very good hands, so he is a handful for any defender.”

Pretty much like fellow Matabele Olonga, who will forever be held in high regard by the old guard of Cornish Pirates.

Olonga, now 49, played for Pirates in the 90s and early 2000s when the club was still languishing in the lower leagues of the English rugby system. But, even though, the Mennaye Field faithful will not easily forget the former Zimbabwe backline ace.

“Victor played in a Test match against Wales in 1993 (his debut, at the National Sports Stadium in Harare), I believe,” Benade remarked.

“I was in primary school, playing a curtain-raiser, while Victor might have been a teenager. I watched him score a try that day. I’m sure Victor inspired thousands of boys to play rugby. It would be great if Matt could follow the steps of a Zimbabwean rugby legend and have a successful career as Victor did. It’s a great opportunity for him and I have no doubt with his work ethic and drive to always become better, that he will continue to do well and serve as a great role model to all local schoolboys that the pathways to professional contracts can indeed start in the school system.”

Bulawayo-born McNab, who studied at Hartpury College in Gloucester, signed for Pirates on a one-year-deal following a loan spell at Worcester Warriors.


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