ZIMBABWE’S senior national rugby team will be hoping to finally end a 17-year winless jinx against their perennial nemesis Namibia in Test rugby when the two sides clash in the penultimate round of the Rugby Africa Gold Cup at Hartsfield Rugby Ground in Bulawayo today.
BY FORTUNE MBELE
The Sables’ last win over the Namibians came in July 2001 when they beat the Welwitschias 27-26 in a then Africa Cup encounter at the same venue.
Now 17 years since that famous triumph, the current squad will be hoping to atone for what has been a disappointing 2019 Rugby World Cup qualification campaign by upstaging an inform Namibian side which is unbeaten in the Gold Cup campaign and on course to qualify for next year’s global showpiece.
The Sables, on the other hand, are almost out of contention for a place at next year’s World Cup after two losses and a draw in their opening three matches and will instead have their sights on remaining in the top tier of African rugby.
In fact, the Peter de Villiers-coached side head into their last two matches needing a win either against the Namibians today or Uganda on August 18 in Kampala requiring at least one victory to stay in the Rugby Africa Gold Cup.
Sables captain Denford Mutamangira yesterday said although the Namibians were overwhelming favourites on paper going into today’s game, they are nonetheless not invincible.
“Playing Namibia is always the biggest game for us at the Gold Cup and I believe they are probably the favourites in this tournament but whenever we play them it is always a close game,” Mutamangira said.
“There are a few times that they have beaten us with a wide margin but the scoreboard does not reflect the game itself. We always play well against them and I think for us this year, this is a big game for us. We are really looking forward to our first win in the competition. As much as they are Namibia, we also want to go out there and win this game.”
The last time the two sides met in Windhoek, Namibia last year the Sables let slip a 23-7 lead to lose the game 31-26. In total the Sables have only beaten Namibia three times in 31 matches.
“They are the favourites but it doesn’t stop us from going out there and playing our game and beating them. We also want to go out there and win that game. We have to stay focused and concentrate for 80 minutes. We can’t afford to lose concentration and we need to pay attention to every little thing to make sure that we go all the way,” Mutamangira said.
Sables coach de Villiers, who is under pressure to finally register his first win as Zimbabwe’s coach, has rung changes to the side.
In the forwards department, talented flank Connor Pritchard reclaims his place in the starting lineup after missing the last match against Tunisia due to his participating at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco, United States.
Wingers Tafadzwa Chitokwindo and Shayne Makombe, who were also part of the Cheetahs’ World Cup squad start for the first time for the Sables, this season.
Scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki also makes a welcome return after missing the last two games due to club commitments in the UK, where he recently signed for RFU Championship side Jersey Reds.
The Sables also made a bold tactical change after moving former Zimbabwe youth international Brandon Mandivenga from centre to flyhalf and dropping the regular number 10 Lenience Tambwera to the replacements bench.
Sables Starting XV
1. Denford Mutamangira, 2.David Makanda, 3. Farai Mudariki, 4. Brian Nyaude, 5. Fortunate Chipendu, 6. Takudzwa Mandiwanza, 7. Connor Pritchard, 8. Tapfuma Parirenyatwa, 9. Hilton Mudariki, 10. Brandon Mandivenga, 11. Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, 12. Tafadzwa Mhende, 13. Kudzai Mashawi, 14. Shayne Makombe, 15. Shingirayi Katsvere
Replacements: 16. Mathew Mandioma, 17. Irvine Nduwa, 18.Lawrence Cleminson, 19. Antipas Kamkwindo, 20. Lucky Sithole, 21. Ernest Mudzengerere, 22. Lenience Tambwera, 23. Matthew McNab