BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
FRESH from a successful season in Australia, Zimbabwe rugby star Connor Pritchard will be hoping for more success on his return to the Cheetahs ahead of their title defence at this year’s Africa Men’s Sevens, which kicks off tomorrow at Bosman Stadium in Brakpan, South Africa.
Pritchard, who last featured for the Cheetahs at the Cape Town leg of the World Rugby HSBC Sevens Series in December, is part of a Zimbabwe squad that will do battle in this year’s continental championship, which will double as the qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
The 14-man squad arrived in South Africa last week and set up camp at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport (SAS) in Cape Town in preparation for the Africa Men’s Sevens, where Zimbabwe will battle it out against 13 other nations for the sole ticket to Tokyo.
Pritchard, who was a key member of the Cheetahs squad which famously beat Kenya 17-5 in the final of last year’s competition staged in Tunisia, said he was confident that the team would do well again this year.
“It’s been a very good and constructive camp at the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport. We all met in camp last Wednesday and have been in full training. The vibe in the camp is very good.
All the boys are gelling well and I am keen to see young guys showcasing their skills,” Pritchard told NewsDaySport from South Africa yesterday.
“Obviously, being defending champions, we have a lot on our shoulders, but I feel very confident that we have a very big chance of going to the Olympics. As I said, the camp has been really good and there is high spirit among the team. All we need to do is go out there and believe in our game plan and play the way we play and we should come out on top.”
The 23-year-old highly-rated player, who plays openside flanker in rugby union, has been on a steady rise in Australia where he is edging closer towards earning a contract with the Super Rugby franchise Queensland Reds.
Pritchard broke into the Queensland Country side which plies its trade in the National Rugby Championship (NRC) – a top-level tournament for players in Australia and one team from Fiji following the conclusion of the Super Rugby season.
“Initially, I was on the bench for the NRC, but managed to work my way into the starting team for the later half of the season. We just missed out on the finals after losing to Fiji Drua in Fiji. Obviously, most of the players in the team are contracted Reds players who play Super Rugby. So the next step is to get a senior contract at the Reds and be full-time with them,” Pritchard said.
While his next goal is to earn a professional contract with the Reds, his immediate task is to lead the Cheetahs to qualification for the Olympics.
Zimbabwe squad: Njabulo Ndlovu, Kudakwashe Chiwanza, Tapiwa Tsomondo, Martin Mangongo, Ngoni Chibuwe, Riaan O’Neill, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Biselele Tshamala, Hilton Mudariki, Tarisai Mugariri, Stephan Hunduza (captain), Takudzwa Kumadiro, Connor Pritchard, Shingirai Katsvere.
Coach: Gilbert Nyamutsamba
Physiotherapist: Margie Gibson