ZIMBABWE’S preparations for the 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifiers in Madagascar later this month were dealt another major blow following the withdrawal of an unnamed major sponsor and the subsequent cancellation of their planned tour of South Africa.
The Sables had earmarked two preparatory matches in South Africa against Limpopo Blue Bulls and their academy side before heading for Madagascar they will play the hosts, Namibia and Kenya from June 26 to July 6.
The winner of the four-team contest will automatically qualify for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England next year.
“Zimbabwe Rugby has recently had the misfortune of a sponsor withdrawing their support for the Sables in late stages of negotiation,” the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) said in a statement.
“Previous efforts with other corporates have not come to fruition for the Rugby World Cup Qualification programme. Zimbabwe Rugby has subsequently come to the decision that they will revert to a 10 day camp in Harare prior to the qualification tournament and not travel to Messina for two scheduled warm up matches for the team.
“Further compounding the issue has been the fact that the local union are not in a financial position to cover the hosting expenses of the Zimbabwe team during the four days in Messina.
“Plans to strengthen the relationship with the home union are now directed towards playing a series of matches in February and June 2015.
The Sables’ latest setback in their bid to secure enough game time before the World Cup qualifiers comes at a time when their rivals Kenya and Namibia are intensifying their preparations.
Kenya, who played in the Vodacom Cup competition in South Africa early this year continued with their preparations when they hosted South African Currie Cup side Western Province for a high profile international friendly in Nairobi last weekend.
They narrowly lost the highly competitive match 28-32 after conceding a last minute try.
Limpopo Blue Bulls will now head to Namibia – Zimbabwe’s other rival for a World Cup slot – for another international friendly in Windhoek this weekend.
ZRU, however, remained optimistic saying said they would now channel the resources they had towards holding a 10-day camp in the capital next Monday.
A top South African scrummaging expert is expected to assist them in their preparations which will also consist of an inter-squad trial match next Friday.
“Funding that has been raised for the Sables efforts will subsequently be directed towards player assembly and a camp in the nation’s capital from the June 16 to 26.
“During this camp a possibles v probables match will be held on Friday 20th June. A high-profile scrumming coach from South Africa is also expected to join the camp to assist with technical assistance in this area as well as providing assistance to local referees in the officiating of scrums in the country,” said ZRU.
Meanwhile, foreign-based players have started arriving ahead of next week’s camp with Europe-based forwards Denford Mutamangira, Michael Passaportis and Kingsley Lang arriving from their bases last weekend.
The rest of the foreign-based contingent is expected to jet in at the weekend while other foreign based players such as Andrew Rose, Graeme Lawler and Gerald Sibanda are already in the country.
Sables’ Preliminary Squad.
Forwards: Jacques Leitao, Fortune Chipendu, Jan Ferreira, Schalk Ferreira, Lambert Groenewald, Piet Joubert, Graeme Lawler, Matthew Mandioma, Tapiwa Mangezi, Keith Murray, Denford Mutamangira, Royal Mwale, Njabulo Ndlovu, Kevin Nqindi, Michael Passaportis, Andrew Rose, Sanele Sibanda, Nick Winwood.
Backs: Daniel Hondo, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Stephan Hunduza, Shayne Makombe, Tichafara Makwanya, Hilton Mudariki, Gardner Nechironga, Tangai Nemadire, Lenience Tambwera, Riaan O’Neill, Gerald Sibanda, Danny Robertson.