Tapiwa Samkange discusses SFU rugby community and living away from home

A sit down with the SFU rugby star

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(Photo courtesy of Al Riede)

By: Beatriz Fernandes

Year: Freshmen

Hometown:  Harare, Zimbabwe

Major: Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

Tapiwa “Taps” Samkange is an international student from Harare, Zimbabwe. Beginning his journey at Fraser International College (FIC), and currently in his freshman year at Simon Fraser University, Taps moved to Canada three years ago, and has been an active member of the SFU Rugby Club ever since.

Taps chose to attend SFU in order to experience a new country and simultaneously pursue an academic career. Tenacious and joyful, the player is loved by his coaches and teammates, who describe him as a pivotal member not only to the club, but to the entire community built around it. Although he has been playing rugby since he was 13, Taps finds the community at SFU to be particularly loving and engaging.

Currently playing tight head prop (the cornerstone of rugby scrums), Taps has collected skills, friends and memories from the club that he holds very dearly. His love for the sport and the team are as apparent as his results on the field. Although Taps first saw rugby as a way to bring something familiar to the unknown, he currently describes the club as his family.

The Peak: How did you first learn about SFU Rugby?

Tapiwa Samkange: I learned about it from my CA (Residence Community Advisor). He told me I should try out, so I went down for a practice… and the rest is history, I guess.

P: How do you manage between an academic and athletic career at SFU?

TS: Obviously I wouldn’t say it’s as intense as other athletic careers because we only practice twice a week, but you just have to strike a balance and prioritize what’s important. I think people often try to schedule their lives around things as opposed to committing to what they enjoy, and I think that’s the biggest mistake. You should state your priorities and then go from there.

P: Who would you say is the most important person in your life?

TS: It has to be my mom. She is always looking out for me. I can’t explain how much she carries me and keeps me going all the time. Even though I’m far from home and communication is not the same, I know that no matter what happens, whatever I do, she’ll always have my back. She’ll always be there.

P: You mentioned that you used to play rugby in Zimbabwe. What do you find the main difference to be between playing here and back home?

TS: They’re definitely different styles. We play in an open age group so there’s a lot more older kids that play an underhand, “older style rugby” that you don’t experience in high school. But playing back home it’s more of a “faster play,” more geared towards grinding harder and harder.

P: Could you take me through your first game here at Simon Fraser University? How much has changed since you first began playing with the team?

TS: My first game was an away game and I was on the bench. It was cold, oh my god, so much cold. I remember getting to play the second half and yeah! It was just weird because there were older people than I expected, and a couple guys bigger than I expected too. I think I touched the ball once during the whole game and it didn’t go great. But afterwards, the whole team just got together and it made me want to come back and play more. It’s very different now – I get to start now! Compared to back then, I’ve gained a bit more confidence because I know what it takes [to play] the game. Before, I was younger and fresher to the team; now I feel confident enough in my role and my tackles. I feel more established.

P: What is your favourite thing about SFU Rugby?

TS: The SFU community and the family bond. Even with rugby as a whole in the Lower Mainland, it’s just so community driven. Not a lot of people do play rugby, so the people who do . . . everyone is just great! From all walks of life, doing all sorts of odd jobs, and coming together every Saturday, come rain or snow, and just beat the heck out of each other.

P: What is the environment around the field like? How is the community at SFU rugby?

TS: Before the game there’s a lot of different people. Some people are more quiet and just want to play music and focus on the game. Other people relax with talking and juggling around. And then when the game happens the view changes. Stuff gets real. Afterwards though, everyone is great with everyone. Like I said, there’s a big community. After the game you feed the other team. You get to know other teams, and once you’ve played for a couple of years, you remember a couple faces and it’s just easy to kick around. There’s a lot of people that through injuries had to stop playing, but they still show up to the games just for the community aspect of it.

P: How has SFU Rugby changed your course at the University, and in your life in general?

TS: Oh so much! It helped me settle in, as coming from Zimbabwe I knew only a few people, so it helped a lot because it’s such a family bond playing rugby. Everyone was nice to me. If you need help with something they’ll be there. It really helped me make friends.

P: Who would you say is the funniest guy in the locker room?

TS: I would say Aidan [Brown]. He could make anyone laugh. He has witty comebacks for everything that no one else could think of. He’s just a treat!

P: How is being from somewhere so far away impact the way you live your life here in Canada and SFU?

TS: When first coming here there was definitely a culture clash. Like, it’s a lot more liberal around here, a lot different compared to back home. But it’s nice because I chose to go somewhere different, and it’s the difference I wanted. Vancouver is a great place, and a great place for me. But being far away, it’s not always easy – you get homesick and you miss home. Zimbabwe is super far away, but with technology it helps a little bit. It just helps you have a different perspective. It makes you think about how different everyone is and the places they came from. Changing your scene is a good thing. The world is so much bigger than I think people realize. So just always expose yourself to as much of it as possible.

P: Do you see yourself staying in Vancouver in the long run?

TS: I would like to stay here a while. I don’t know if I will live here forever, but yeah, so far I’ve enjoyed the city and the people. Like I said, the rugby is sort of my family away from home. Coming from far away, your friends become your family, and it’s a good enough family to stick around with. So I’m not necessarily in a rush to go back home.

P: To the people who might be considering trying out for the team, what would you say?

TS: Come and have a try out. Rugby is a sport that can take all body types. You don’t have to be the tallest or the biggest. You can be small and fast. It allows all bodies to play, as long as you have determination. You have to want it, because rugby games are very intense on the field. You have to be determined to win it. I hope that people feel free to come out, it’s a lot of fun.

Athlete’s corner: As an international student, Tapiwa recommends being engaged and becoming part of a community that shares the same interests as you. Currently ranking at 6th place, the Simon Fraser RFC [Rugby Football Club] is on the track to make it to playoffs, and Taps encourages everyone to come and join the community on its journey there. SFU Rugby holds games most Saturdays, often on Burnaby Mountain, and no matter the results, a party is always guaranteed.