ZIMBABWE’s Sevens rugby team will head to the upcoming Sevens Rugby World Cup with a familiar looking squad of players after the technical department named an experienced 12-man squad for the global showpiece slated for June 28-30 in Moscow, Russia.
REPORT BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba named six players who featured at the 2009 edition of the World Cup in Dubai.
The survivors from that Cheetahs team include Captain Jacques Leitao and his deputy Daniel Hondo, prolific wing Wensley Mbanje, utility player Gardner Nechironga, playmaker Tangai Nemadire and Fortune Chipendu.
Hondo, who had been struggling with an ankle injury recently, had to pass a late fitness test to make it into the travelling party. Nyamutsamba said he was banking on the experience of his tried and trusted players to act as an inspiration to the new crop of players in the squad.
“We are actually going to this World Cup with an advantage in that six of the players have actually played at the World Cup before. Their experience and the fact that they have been there before is going to stabilise the squad and ensure that the new players gel well into the team,” he said.
South Africa-based giant forward Njabulo Ndlovu leads the cast of new players who are set to make their World Cup debuts such as Lucky Sithole, Mike Morris, Kilvan Magunje, France-based Garth Ziegler and Tafadzwa Chitokwindo.
The biggest casualty yesterday was Germany-based utility player Manasah Sita, who only joined camp last week after recently recovering from a long term shoulder injury. Also overlooked was promising young player Tapiwa Tsomondo and speedster Stephan Hunduza.
The Cheetahs will open their campaign with a tough encounter against Samoa on June 28 before a double header the following day against Kenya and Philippines.
With 24 teams taking part, the six pool winners and the two best runners up will book their berths in the Main Cup quarterfinals. The Cheetahs need to top Pool C or at the very least, place second with a high points difference to advance to the Main Cup quarterfinals.
Zimbabwe have participated in three previous Sevens World Cups since the inaugural tournament was held in 1993 in Scotland, the birthplace of rugby sevens.
They came 21st in the 1997 and 2001 tournaments before putting on a huge performance in 2009 in Dubai to famously beat Ireland 17-14 and win the tournament’s Bowls section.
Meanwhile, the Cheetahs’ rising profile as a sevens powerhouse received a major vote of confidence after Edrington Africa, through their Famous Grouse Whisky brand, were unveiled as the team’s new principal sponsor from next season. The new partnership which was unveiled at a local hotel on Wednesday evening will see Famous Grouse taking over from Spar Zimbabwe, who will however, remain as the teams’ main sponsor until after the World Cup in Russia.
The agreement which is for an undisclosed fee will be for a one-year term (renewable). Famous Grouse also sponsors the Scottish Sevens rugby team.
Cheetahs’ World Cup Squad: Fortune Chipendo, Jacques Leitao (captain), Njabulo Ndlovu, Mike Morris, Lucky Sithole, Tangai Nemadire, Kilvan Magunje, Daniel Hondo, Gardner Nechironga, Wensley Mbanje, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Garth Ziegler