Takudzwa Ngwenya thriving in France after leaving Habana c

Takudzwa Ngwenya has come a long way in a very short time, and the Zimbabwe-born US rugby union winger admits he is still very much learning his trade at French first division club Biarritz.

Ngwenya arrived at last September’s Rugby World Cup in France as an uncapped unknown in a US Eagles Squad of virtual unknowns.

But the 22-year-old winger made his mark in thrilling style against 2007 IRB player of the year Bryan Habana when the United States played South Africa in a pool stage match.

A South African pass was intercepted deep in American territory by US flanker Todd Clever, who made 25 metres before offloading to lock Alec Parker, who in turn passed to Mike Hercus.

US captain Hercus then looked right and whipped out a long pass to Ngwenya, who was not originally in Eagles coach Peter Thorburn’s initial plans for the World Cup squad.

Ngwenya found himself lined up one-on-one against Habana, and at full pace, jinked to go one way, jinked back again, and skinned the Springbok on the outside in a touchline sprint of the highest quality, rounding to touch down under the posts.

“Hercus always said ‘Zee, you were born to run. If I get the ball and you’re in space, I’ll give you the ball’,” Ngwenya said. “So Hercus passed it even though it was a long and risky pass for him.

“When I looked up, it was Bryan! So I tried to cut, people thought I was trying to set him up so I could run outside, but no, I just tried everything to make him not force me to run outside, because I thought he would catch me from behind.

“So I thought, maybe if I do this, he’ll go on the outside, and I’ll run on the inside, and if I get tackled, at least I would have cut inside and got support.

“But Bryan is good, so he forced me on the outside, so I thought OK, I’ll just pin my ears and run for the flag. If he catches me, he catches me!

“I don’t know if Habana is faster, maybe he is faster, but he didn’t think I was that quick for that distance. So when he gained on me and I took off, that’s when he must have realised ‘oh, he’s actually quick!’

“It got kind of loud after that game,” he said.

Ngwenya never did return to college in the United States, at first going to English club Saracens on trial before signing a more lucrative two-year deal with Biarritz in November.

“The first month or two was difficult, especially in defence,” the flyer admitted of his early experiences with the southwestern French club which boasts such France international veterans as Serge Betsen, Damien Traille, Jerome Thion and Dimitri Yachvili in its squad roster.

“It’s okay in attack but in defence you need to know what’s really going on,” said Ngwenya who has scored four tries in ten games this season for his club.

“I’m still learning everything else off the ball. I’m okay when I get the ball, but how to get the pass, and so on… I don’t move around as much as all the other players, from one side to the other, playing without the ball, trying to get into space, I’m still trying to figure that out.

“Also for me there’s one big thing, it’s the kicking. The ball is in the air for most of the time, it’s always kicked. I have trouble trying to read kicks.”

Ngwenya, who moved from Zimbabwe with his family to the United States in 2001, added that he was perhaps still blindsided by his initial American football training.

“My overall vision is bad,” he said. “When I get the ball, I just focus on one thing. In US football you don’t pass it. When I trained for college football, they always tell us when you get the ball to quickly secure it because you’ll get hit and if you drop it then it’s a turnover.

“So I always tend to catch it and bring it back to the chest, whereas the coach wants me to catch it and keep it out at arm’s length and pass it.” The winger, who has clocked 10.5 seconds over 100 metres, continued: “Never in my life did

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