Sables off to Hong Kong Cup of Nations

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THE Zimbabwe senior rugby team left for the Hong Kong Cup of Nations tournament yesterday with head coach Cyprian Mandenge taking with him a squad blended with youth and experience, as he seeks to build a strong pool of players for the 2019 Rugby World Cup qualifiers.

BY DANIEL NHAKANISO

The Hong Kong Cup of Nations, which begins on Friday, is a new World Rugby-sanctioned competition, which will feature four national sides — hosts Hong Kong, Portugal, Russia and Zimbabwe.

Mandenge, who due to financial constraints, will only train with his players as a group in Hong Kong, included six uncapped players in the final squad, mostly former Young Sables players, who have been plying their trade both locally and in South Africa.

The uncapped players in the Sables squad are lock, David Kapuya, flyhalf, Kuziva Kazembe, prop, Gabriel Sipapati, centres, Ngonidzashe Chibuwe and Malvern Maparura and eighth man, Alva Senderayi.

Senderayi, a former Young Sables skipper, was part of the University of Cape Town’s Varsity Cup and also made the Western Province Under-21 side for the Absa Under-21 Currie Cup competition.

“I hope the team will gel considering that we are going to have our first training together in Hong Kong,” Mandenge told NewsDay Sport just before the team’s departure yesterday.

Sables

“Some of the guys are coming into the team for the first time, so they need to understand the team culture, our principles in defence and attack among other aspects. It’s not ideal, but what can we do without financial resources? It’s an opportunity we could not turn down since it gives us an ideal platform to start our preparations for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and we will be taking the tournament very seriously,” he said. Mandenge also recalled a number of experienced players, who didn’t feature in the Africa Cup competition earlier this year.

The returnees are headlined by lock forward, Jan Ferreira, who recently joined Spanish club Aparejadores, Martin Wolfenden, who plays for plays for English National League One rugby side Coventry RFC and Germany-based wing, Manasah Sita.

Harare Sports Club backliner, Tafadzwa Mhende, who retired from international rugby in 2013, makes a return after a brilliant season in the domestic league, while United States-based versatile backliner, Lungile Tshuma, also bounces back into the Sables fold.

Mandenge revealed that four players Sita, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Stephan Hunduza and Riaan O’Neil, will join the Sables squad in Hong Kong after playing for the national Sevens side, the Cheetahs, in the Rio Olympic qualifiers in South Africa on Saturday and Sunday.

This effectively rules them out for the Sables’ opening match of the Hong Kong Cup of Nations against the hosts on Friday.
However, the five players should be available for the Sables’ second match against Russia on November 17 and the last match against Portugal on 21 November.

Russia, who beat Zimbabwe 23-15 in a 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifying semi-final playoff last year in Siberia, are the highest ranked team competing in the Hong Kong Cup of Nations, as they are ranked 22nd in the World Rugby standings.

Hong Kong is ranked 24th, while Zimbabwe, who beat Kenya and Tunisia this year before losing in the final of the Africa Cup to Namibia remain in position 26.

Portugal, who are ranked 28th, are the lowest ranked team in the four-nation competition.

Sables squad
Forwards: Denford Mutamangira (captain), Tatenda Murwira, Farai Mudariki, Brian Makamure, Gabriel Sipapati, Royal Mwale, Martin Wolfenden, Andrew Rose, David Kapuya, Jan Ferreira, Nico Nyemba, Biselele Tshamala, Sanele Sibanda, Alva Senderayi

Backs: Tichafara Makwanya (vice-captain), Gerald Sibanda, Charles Jiji, Kuziva Kazembe, Malvern Maparura, Ngonidzashe Chibuwe, Lungile Tshuma, Manasah Sita, Tafadzwa Mhende, Manasah Sita, Riaan O’Neil, Stephan Hunduza, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo