ZIMBABWE face off against Russia today in the penultimate stage of the 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifiers at Central Stadium in the Siberian town of Krasnoyarsk knowing that only a win would reignite their hopes of a place at next year’s global showpiece in England.
The one-off match, which is the first ever meeting between the two nations, kicks off at 1300 hours (Zimbabwean time) and will be streamed live on the International Rugby Board’s official website (www.irb.com).
With a place in the two-legged playoff final awaiting the winner of today’s match, the Sables, who last played in the Rugby World Cup in 1991, will be fully aware that nothing less a win will be enough for them to remain in contention for the final qualification place.
Zimbabwe will take plenty of positives with them into today’s clash in Siberia after narrowly missing out on Africa’s sole automatic Rugby World Cup ticket to rivals Namibia.
While their preparations for the African qualifiers were far from ideal, the Sables head into the Russia clash better prepared and in a good position to cause an upset their higher-ranked opponents.
Not only does the team now some competitive match practice under their belt after playing three matches during the African qualifiers, but they have also managed to acclimatise to the conditions in Siberia after arriving in that country six days before the day of the match.
The traditional strength of the Russians lies in the physicality of their game and the Sables would look to counter that with their speedy backline which clearly has more flair and skill.
Having struggled upfront in the past, the Sables now boast of a dominant forward pack capable of matching up during scrum time, securing their own lineout ball while also possessing the much needed speed at the breakdown.
In an interview with the IRB website, Zimbabwe Rugby Union director of rugby Liam Middleton backed the Sables’ speedy backline to trouble the Russian Bears.
“We came one try away from the World Cup, which would be phenomenal for the country. Yes there was disappointment, but I can say that very quickly the focus turned to Russia and that sense of resilience and positiveness returned,” said Middleton.
“We’ve got to play our kind of rugby, we’re an exciting side and we’ve got a lot of game-breakers in our team. Our backs are Sevens players and I think we have some of the fastest players in Africa. Our number 10 (Guy Cronje) and number 8 (Lambert Groenewald) both play for the Golden Lions in Super Rugby, so we have big players in important positions.”
With seasoned loosehead prop Denford Mutamangira unavailable, Joubert Pieter looks set to join hooker Murray Keith and tighthead Kevin Nqindi in the front row.
The Sables will look to their lineout kingpin Jan Ferreira to boss the set pieces while Sanele Sibanda will also provide another option during the lineouts.
Eighthman Lambert Groenewald and openside flank Jacques Leitao will lead the physical charge while blindside flank Graeme Lawler will also have a big job to do at the breakdown.
Impressive scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki will continue his superb halfback combination with exciting flyhalf Guy Cronje while skipper Daniel Hondo is expected to partner Riaan O’neill in
Fullback Danny Robertson is expected to finally reclaim his place at fullback after the withdrawal of Tangai Nemadire from the squad while Tafadzwa Chitokwindo and Stephan Hunduza will provide pace on the wings.
Meanwhile, Uruguay and Hong Kong clash in the other playoff semi-final in Montevideo tonight with the winner of that match booking a date with the winner of the Sables and Russia clash.
The winner of the playoff final (repechage final) will join
Australia, England, Wales and Fiji in Pool A of rugby’s pinnacle tournament next year.
Sables Starting XV (1-15): Joubert Pieter, Murray Keith, Kevin Nqindi, Jan Ferreira, Sanele Sibanda, Graeme Lawler, Jacques Leitao (vice-captain), Lambert Groenewald, Hilton Mudariki, Guy Cronje, Stephan Hunduza, Riaan O’Neill,
Daniel Hondo (captain), Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Danny Robertson
Replacements: Lawrence Cleminson, Matthew Mandioma, Farai Mudariki, Takunda Chifokoyo, Fortunate Chipendu, Kingsley Lang, Peter du Toit, Lenience Tambwera, Shayne Makombe
Russia Starting Team (1-15): Gregory Tsnobiladze, Valery Tsnobiladze, Andrew Igrets, Alexander Voitov, Andrei Ostrikov, Andrei Garbuzov, Andrew Darker, Victor Gresev, Alexander Yanyushkin, Yury Kushnarev, Denis Simplikevich, Alexey Makovetskii, Vasily Artemyev, Mikhail Babaev, Igor Kluchnikov