ZIMBABWE’S flagship national rugby side, the Sables, look set to get more game time this year after being invited to feature in a new four-team competition, the Hong Kong Cup of Nations, to be held from November 13-21.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The Sables will test their strength against the hosts Hong Kong, Portugal, and Russia in the World Rugby-sanctioned competition.
Zimbabwe Rugby Union director of rugby Brighton Chivandire said the Hong Kong Cup of Nations tournament would give the national XVs side more playing opportunities as they look to rebuild for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
“It’s obviously an exciting development for the Sables. We were targeting to have at least five Tests for the Sables, but now because of this invitation we will now have six Tests which is a huge plus for us,” he said.
“We need to have the Sables playing more regularly, we are confident this competition will give the team some valuable exposure as we look to rebuild for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.”
Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU) general manager of performance rugby Dai Rees said he expected the participating teams to give his side some tough competition.
“The teams invited to participate in the Cup of Nations are all ranked between 18 and 28 in the world, providing broadly competitive fixtures for Hong Kong,” said Rees in a statement on their official website.
“These teams all regularly reach the final stages of qualification for the Rugby World Cup. All four teams, including Hong Kong, advanced deep into the 2015 Rugby World Cup qualification process but ultimately didn’t qualify.”
Russia, who beat Zimbabwe 23-15 in a 2015 Rugby World Cup répechage semi-final last year, is the highest ranked team competing in the Cup of Nations, currently 19th in the World Rugby standings.
Portugal are ranked 23 while Hong Kong recently moved up two spots to 25th in the world which leaves Zimbabwe who are ranked 28th as the lowest ranked team in the competition.
However, the Sables could have made some strides on the rankings by the time the tournament is held depending on their results from the Africa Cup competition which kicks off in a fortnight.
The Sables open their campaign with a tricky home tie against Kenya at Prince Edward School on June 13 before two more matches against Tunisia (July 4) and the World Cup bound-Namibia on August 15.
Zimbabwe have been on the mend in the last five years, beating African opposition with relative ease, with the exception of old foe Namibia, who once again edged them for a place in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. England will host the next World Cup in August.