THE Zimbabwe team received a welcome boost ahead of their Africa Cup match against Tunisia at Prince Edward School this afternoon after being presented with a kit sponsorship deal worth $10 000 by CBZ Holdings Ltd yesterday.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The sponsorship, which is specifically for today’s encounter, comes when the Sables will be aiming to take another step towards winning the Africa Cup competition which they last won three years ago.
Zimbabwe got their international season off to a winning start last month with a hard-fought 28-20 win over Kenya and Sables coach Cyprian Mandenge believes his charges can go a gear up against the Tunisians.
“Every game is important to us as we are not just looking at the Africa Cup, but ahead to the 2019 Rugby World Cup qualifiers and ensuring that we don’t stay in the tier that we are in at the present moment, but we move to the tier two in world rugby,” Mandenge said.
“The win against Kenya was very important because it gives the guys the belief that we can do it. It was a good start, but we need to work on our finishing and we will be aiming to go a gear up against Tunisia. I think the team is as good as we played in the first 15 minutes, it was our first game together. I’m sure this time around we will put on a better show,” he said.
The Sables technical department made five changes to its starting line-up after the withdrawal of four players who started in the opening Test against Kenya due to other commitments.
Most of the changes were, however, made in the forwards department where the Sables technical staff has gone for strong scrummagers, looking for set-piece dominance especially at scrum time.
Upfront, young Farai Mudariki has retained the tight-head responsibilities after a good show against Kenya and will prop with hooker Royal Mwale and loose-head Denford Mutamangira, who captains the side.
The Sables will head into today’s encounter with a brand new lock pairing off Biselele Tshamala and Njabulo Ndhlovu, who come in for the unavailable Sanele Sibanda and Fortune Chipendo, who drops to the bench.
Ndlovu as a ball runner and high-impact contributor, one of the best in the country, while Tshamala, who has the engine of a loose forward, stands out with his incredible work rate.
The pair will also will also give the Sables an extra advantage at line-out as they are both tall and strong jumpers.
In the loose trio, the seasoned Jacques Leitao makes a welcome return to the side and will lead an experienced back row comprising Scotland-based Andrew Rose and Norman Mukondiwa.
The technical team will also pin their hopes on their loose trio to give them go forward ball as they are strong ball carriers.
At half-back, Charles Jiji has been preferred ahead of Hilton Mudariki, while Tichafara Makwanya retains the number 10 jersey.
The centre pairing has been a source of major concern for the Sables following the injury of Takudzwa Chieza coupled by Riaan O’Neill’s unavailability for today’s clash.
However, Old Georgians utility backliner Boyd Rouse, who is very capable of filling in Riaan O’Neil’s shoes, starts at inside centre after making an impact coming from the bench against Kenya.
Wing Stephan Hunduza, who comes in for veteran Gardner Nechironga, was the only change in the back three after missing the Kenya game due to an illness in the build up to the game.
Mandenge has also kept faith in his fullback Tangai Nemadire after an indifferent perfomance against Kenya, while Tafadzwa Chitokwindo completes the back three.
The Sables are yet to lose to Tunisia, having won all three matches against their opponents since 1990.
But today, they will be well aware that statistics count for very little against an unpredictable Tunisian side which is capable of punching above their weight.
American international rugby referee Kurt Weaver will take charge of the match which kicks off at 1530 hours.
Sables team to play Tunisia (15-1) — Tangai Nemadire, Stephan Hunduza, Boyd Rouse, Cleopas Makotose, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Tichafara Makwanya (vice-captain), Charles Jiji, Andrew Rose, Jacques Leitao, Norman Mukondiwa, Njabulo Ndlovu, Biselele Tshamala, Farai Mudariki, Royal Mwale, Denford Mutamangira (captain)
Replacements (16-23) — Nico Nyemba, Kevin Nqindi, Lawrence Cleminson, Fortunate Chipendu, Hilton Mudariki, Lenience Tambwera, Shayne Makombe, Gardner Nechironga