ZIMBABWE senior rugby team coach Cyprian Mandenge says he was pleased with his team’s character after they secured a crucial 28-16 win against Senegal in their opening match of the expanded Rugby Africa Gold Cup at the Ibar Mar Diop Stadium in Dakar on Saturday.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The crucial away victory lifted the Sables one spot on the World Rugby rankings after climbing above Moldova to position 35, but they still remain the fourth best side on the continent behind South Africa (5), Namibia (21) and Kenya (26).
More importantly though, the Sables’ bonus point victory over Senegal took them to the top of the six-team Rugby Africa Gold Cup log standings ahead of their second match against reigning African champions Namibia in Windhoek on July 15.
While Mandenge was pleased with the character displayed by his charges he, however, admitted that there was still a lot of work to be done ahead of tougher matches against Namibia, Kenya, Tunisia and Uganda.
“We were under immense pressure to win and I’m very happy that the boys showed character to get a positive result under very difficult conditions,” he said
“We, however, have to keep working hard because this win could count for nothing if we don’t do well in our next games. We need to focus on the next game and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. We need to work harder and smarter than before.
“People have to fight for jerseys, but we will look at it case by case as to why someone was not here. It will be horses for courses, it’s a long haul. I have and will always take the best players available.”
With the odds heavily stacked against them due to poor preparations coupled by the absence of several key players, the Sables dug deep to secure a crucial victory which keeps their hopes of staying in the elite group alive.
The Sables trailed 13-6 at the break as the hosts ran in two tries, with Mandenge’s men managing just two penalties through the boot of flyhalf Tichafara Makwanya.
Zimbabwe seized the initiative after the half-time break after running in four unanswered tries courtesy of scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki, left wing Stephan Hunduza and a brace from right wing Takudzwa Kumadiro to seal an important 28-16 victory.
The Sables were the only winners of the day in the two matches played on match day one in the Rugby Africa Gold Cup as East African rivals Kenya and Uganda drew 33-33 in Nairobi, Kenya.
The Rugby Africa Gold Cup continues this Saturday, with 2015 World Cup participants and defending continental champions Namibia opening their campaign away to Tunisia, who are making a return to the top-tier group.