THE Zimbabwe senior national rugby 15s team will have a busy schedule this year following the release of an expanded Africa Cup fixtures programme, which will serve as a dress rehearsal for next year’s continental qualifiers for the 2019 Rugby World Cup to be held in Japan.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Rugby Africa members met for their annual general meeting in Botswana last month, where they restructured the top tier Africa Cup Division 1A competition by increasing the number of fixtures to six starting this year.
The Africa Cup Division 1A, which used to be made up of just four countries, now has six teams with Zimbabwe, who were supposed to be relegated to the Division IB after they finished bottom of the top group last year, now joined by 1B finalists Senegal and Tunisia.
Reigning Africa Cup champions, Namibia, Kenya and Uganda are the other teams, who will compete in the expanded Africa Cup competition.
Unlike in the past, when the Sables played just three Africa Cup fixtures the changes by the governing body for rugby in Africa means the Sables will now play six Africa Cup Division 1A fixtures.
Zimbabwe Rugby Union president, Nyararai Sibanda said the Sables technical department will soon roll out their training programme for this year’s competition, where they will be eager to redeem themselves after a dismal campaign in 2016.
“Obviously, after last year’s harsh reality check, we have decided to do things differently this time around. The Sables technical department headed by coach, Cyprian Mandenge will soon roll out their training programme ahead of the Africa Cup campaign.
“In the absence of a National Rugby League programme, they have already indicated that they intend to hold training camps in Harare and Bulawayo on a monthly rotational basis to ensure that the players remain active. In addition, we plan to organise fine tuning matches to help the team prepare for the Africa Cup matches.”
According to the fixtures programme released by Rugby Africa, Zimbabwe will open their Africa Cup campaign with a tricky away fixture against Senegal in Dakar on June 24 before travelling to Windhoek for a tough encounter against their old nemesis, Namibia on July 15.
The Sables will play their first home fixture of the year against Kenya on July 22 before also hosting Tunisia for another Africa Cup fixture a week later.
Zimbabwe will conclude their campaign with an away assignment against Uganda in Kampala on August 5.
The Sables, who were crowned African champions in 2012, finished bottom of last year’s Africa Cup Division 1A log standings, after a disappointing campaign that saw them losing all their three matches against Namibia, Kenya and Uganda.