A former Abu Dhabi Harlequins player has launched his own sports management agency looking to unearth young talents across the globe and give those hidden gems, whose path to success might otherwise be blocked by financial difficulties, a chance to shine.
McMillan Chiwawa has established Chiwawa Pro Management and Marketing in his native Zimbabwe in a bid to help give back to the sport – an idea he said was partly inspired by the impact of playing at Quins had on him.
The 24-year-old lived in the UAE for almost eight years and played for Quins from 2010-16. He also spent a year at cross-city rivals Saracens before moving back to his homeland in 2017.
A lively winger blessed with searing pace, Chiwawa’s prowess saw him invited to train with the UAE national sevens squad under former coach Roelof Kotze. And although he never earned a cap for his adopted country, Chiwawa went on to earn recognition on the international invitational sevens circuit, plucked to play for the likes of Headhunters and Selects 7s in America.
As well as creating a player pathway link with his old club, Chiwawa has also managed to secure partnerships with Titans Rugby Club in Hawaii and two more clubs in the USA.
“Chiwawa Pro Management and Marketing focuses on athletes of all ages who haven’t had the chance to get that exposure on a professional level,” said Chiwawa.
“I’ve always wanted to give back to my Quins family as a lot of my success stems from the club. I had a word with head coach Mike McFarlane about a possible player pathway link and this idea turned into reality.
“Harlequins, Titans and two more clubs in the USA have given me the go ahead to start my search for talent.
“My pool of selection begins at home in Zimbabwe as I’ve been appointed as junior coach at Prince Edward School who are in the top three rugby schools in Zimbabwe.
“They agreed to host Harlequins juniors in the future if they ever were to tour over here and vice versa as they also tour yearly and playing Quins is in their plans.
“The player pathway link will help to give athletes a clear future plan in any part of the world despite economic difficulties and my drive is giving back to the sport of rugby and my long-time club Quins for the impact they’ve had on my life and career.”
Chiwawa’s journey will be documented by the Zimbabwe Broadcast Cooperation who will submit the project to London-based Zimbabwean businessman Strive Masiyiwa who owns Kwese Sports.
Chiwawa’s company currently represent Zimbabwe 7s rugby player Kuda Chiwanza and Zimbabwe cricketer Ryan Burl.
“My dream is to grow sports in my home country and anywhere else I can reach, with the Gulf being a solid destination on my map,” added Chiwawa, who praised former Quins player manager and team-mate Jeremy Manning for his help, and Dominic Budzisz, his coach on the American sevens scene, who has offered housing for athletes traveling to play in America.
Cipriani makes his first appearance in a senior squad under Jones on the strength of his sparkling form for Wasps – a decade after the last start in an international career of unrealised potential.
The 30-year-old, who is being considered at fly-half and full-back for the three-Test series against the Springboks beginning on June 9, was previously overlooked due to misgivings over his attitude.
Several incidents have blotted his copybook, among them a training ground fracas with Mike Catt and a ban for drink driving, but Jones believes his form means he can no longer be ignored.
Should he transgress again, however, he will be forced to return from South Africa alone.
“I haven’t discussed Danny’s temperament with him. I’ve been looking at it purely from a rugby point of view, what he can add and what he can do,” Jones said.
“I’m convinced there is something he can offer because he’s made changes to his game and his character will come through.
“If he’s a good character he could be in the team for a long time. If he’s a bad character, there’s always a plane back from Johannesburg.”
Martin Johnson and Stuart Lancaster are previous England coaches who viewed Cipriani’s antics as too high a price to pay for his obvious talent, while at club level his career has been nomadic.
“The baggage doesn’t worry me, it’s how he behaves in front of me. I can’t control what he’s done in the past. All I can do is control what he does in the future,” Jones said.
“We need to give him that flexibility to display his talent. He’s definitely got a creative talent and we don’t want to annul that, but he has to understand there’s a team and he has to play within that team. It’ll be exciting to see how he goes.”
More controversial than Cipriani’s return is the decision to pick flanker Brad Shields – one of eight uncapped players in the 34-man squad – despite the Hurricanes captain being midway through the Super Rugby season.
Grateful for the opportunity. Really appreciate all the messages. Still a lot of work to be done. Starting with the semi final next week! 🐝🌹 pic.twitter.com/FuUHwxD9Ex— Danny Cipriani (@DannyCipriani87) 10 May 2018
The 27-year-old was born and raised in New Zealand but has never been capped by the All Blacks and qualifies for England through his parents. Shields’ inclusion has been criticised by New Zealand Rugby, who nevertheless revealed they will not stand in his path.
“(New Zealand coach) Steve Hansen is old enough and wise enough to know who he wants to pick and I’m old enough and wise enough to know who I want to pick. And I think Shields will add to the team,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, back row James Haskell is among the players who have been rested.
The task of leading England in South Africa falls to Owen Farrell in the absence of the concussed Dylan Hartley.
“In English rugby in particular, the key for the captain is to get unity and to get people to work together because the sporting environment here is based around selfishness. It is about the individual game,” Jones said.
“During the Six Nations we got complacent about unity, without a doubt, and that’s again my responsibility.”
Leinster face French side Racing 92 in the final of the Champions Cup in Bilbao on Saturday, with the Irish outfit bidding to win their fourth European title, and their first since 2012.
With so much at stake, we take a look at three key battles which could decide the outcome.
James Ryan v Leone Nakarawa
The Leinster lock has emerged as one of the rising stars of the game – and is yet to lose a professional game in 20 outings for club and country.
His voracious work makes him one of the central figures in the Leinster pack, coupled with his ability to pass and make breaks, which is a testament to the 15 man game Leinster are implementing.
Nakarawa meanwhile remains an instrumental presence for Racing with his strong offloading, solid carrying and smoking footwork all serious threats.
The line-out may be his key strength, but away from that he puts in a serious shift to get on the ball and put teammates in formidable attacking positions.
In defence, he can tackle solidly, win his own ball and show serious willingness at the breakdown.
Some locks offer a line-out threat and possess solid enough workrate, but Nakarawa (6’6) and Ryan (6’8) carry themselves around the field like a pair of six-litre V12s.
The Fijian international may have the experience, but the Irishman has shown before that he is up for any challenge no matter how big the task is.
Garry Ringrose v Virimi Vakatawa
Robbie Henshaw may be the chief lieutenant in the Leinster midfield, but Ringrose is equally as effective with ball in hand and in defence.
The 24-year-old tends to play first receiver to Johnny Sexton, and provides a fresh cutting edge to Ireland’s attack. His slick feet also allows him to evade would-be tacklers and gain extra yardage in a bid to unlock the speed out wide.
In Vakatawa, Racing possess a similar figure, with solid footwork, speed and power, but devoid of the same play-making style of Ringrose.
The French international was totemic in the semi-final win over Munster and – aside from Thomas – remains Racing’s greatest attacking threat.
Whoever can gain a foothold in this battle will have the upperhand in unlocking the opposition defence and initiating attacking opportunities.
Isa Nacewa v Teddy Thomas
The Frenchman may possess the pace and finishing ability to put Racing in command of any contest, but Nacewa is one of the best players to don the Leinster shirt.
If the Fiji man does 100 things in a row, it seems to be with perfect execution. He has that ability to dance and always give the ball to someone in a better position, instead of taking it into contact.
At 35 and captain of this star-studded team, he purrs with dominance and will be looking to go out on a high in his final season in Leinster colours.
Thomas – with two tries in the semi-final win over Munster – will be central to how Racing perform and if Nacewa can starve him of position and metres, then expect Racing to struggle to put scores on the board.