Panashe Muzambe: An international journey
When Panashe Muzambe received her first cap for Scotland during the 2019 Six Nations, she stepped onto the pitch at Twickenham for the final ten minutes and looked up to the sky feeling very grateful for the opportunity.
If you had asked a ten-year-old Muzambe what she wanted to do when she was older, playing rugby for Scotland was not her answer! Muzambe was born in Zimbabwe and attended a primary school that was really passionate about providing lots of sporting opportunities for its pupils. She moved over to Scotland when she was 13 and this was when her basketball skills and passion started to really develop, and she joined the basketball team at her school St Augustine’s High School in Edinburgh.
Introduction to rugby
Whilst at Edinburgh Napier University, she continued to play basketball but took up the opportunity to try rugby at a ‘come and try’ session in her third year. She knew of rugby but enjoyed getting to know the more technical elements of the game through this session. It was led by 28-capped retired Scotland Women player Sarah Quick. This session was not just an introduction to the sport but also a chance for students to sign up for the newly established women’s team.
Taking the brave step to play for the rugby team in their first ever match against Edinburgh University 2nds, this cemented her decision to take a break from basketball. It was a close match with the league debutants losing 25-22, although it wasn’t the close result that Muzambe remembered about the game.
She said: “It was a really close match, but I think it was the whole experience of it. The experience stands out more than actually the result. I have a nice photo of all of the girls huddled up which I really cherish. It was a pretty special day and memory.”
In her final year, she was also the captain of the team. With coach Quick mentoring her, her rugby skills quickly developed. Talking about her first experience in getting involved in the Scotland Women set up, she said:
“There was an East v West game that I got invited too. I went and I was a bit nervous actually. It was quite good though as Sarah talked me through it and prepared me well for it. I really enjoyed it. I have no idea how many minutes I played in the match, but I enjoyed the training in the build up to it. You were put into an environment where you didn’t really know everybody but having that opportunity to train with people and get to know them and then get on the pitch with them. It was really enjoyable.
“I remember at the end Shade Munro, the Scotland Women head coach at the time, came over and introduced himself - I was pretty surprised.”
Scotland Women call-up
“My first call-up to the Scotland Women squad was unexpected. I had been around the squad and training with the Development pathway group. I was there around the team and seeing them in the gym and would occasionally get to train alongside the current squad members.
“You see people doing something that you absolutely love, and you want to be there. You want to get to that level.
“I was shocked to get the call-up, but I thought ‘I am getting there, I’m not far off now’. You train so much but you never know when you are going to get that cap, call-up or even opportunity to travel with the team. You just keep working behind the scenes and hope for the best.”
Muzambe was invited to Spain in January 2019 with Scotland Women as 24th/25th player on what she describes as a “steep learning curve but a really special one”.
After being part of the squad as 24th/25th player a few times, the call-up to being in the match day squad was a special one for Muzambe. It was last-minute and she dropped everything to be able to make the trip down to London for the final match of the 2019 Women’s Six Nations.
“When I found out I was in the match day squad, I realised that my dreams were closer to becoming a reality. It was a special, special moment.
“I got to share my hotel room with Sarah Law. She actually got her first cap at that same hotel. She helped me out in ensuring that I enjoyed it and took the whole occasion in.
“You still don’t know if you will be on the pitch when you warm up."
"I just remember raising my head to the heavens and being grateful for the opportunity to cross that whitewash when I went on. I was delighted to get the opportunity to represent a lot of things. To represent a lot of people. Your friends, your family and I wanted to be able to enjoy it for them."
“I got to this position but there was a village of people around me that helped.”
Her second cap was another one to remember. Muzambe was selected to travel to South Africa with Scotland Women in their first ever tour and their first ever matches in the Southern Hemisphere.
“It was incredible. I had spoken to my dad and he said that he let my uncle, who lives in Cape Town, know about the match. He came on his own for the first match and it was lovely to see him. I thought he was going to come back on his own for the second game.
“He literally, single-headedly brought everyone to that game. I didn’t know and I was in shock. It was amazing. Also, the fact that my parents couldn’t come and watch me for my first game.
“So, the next time that I played an International game was across the waters in another country, in the continent that I was born in - which was pretty special. But also, with lots more of my extended family coming to watch me.
“Scottish Rugby bringing families together, I will always be grateful for that moment.”
Challenge is what keeps her developing
Even though she has reached the Scotland Women squad and has all of these special moments, it is the challenge of developing that keeps her going and is the standout memory for her rugby career so far.
“For me, it was learning the game and challenging myself. I took up refereeing as I really wanted to learn more about the game. I could pass the ball and play but I wanted to expand my understanding of the technical aspects of the game.
“I thought the best way of doing that for me was to take up refereeing. So, I got my level one refereeing and coaching when I was at Edinburgh Napier University.
“The caps, and going to South Africa, and the win in Spain - those things all stand out, but I couldn’t have been in that position if I didn’t put in that foundation.” Panashe Muzambe