ZIMBABWE’S national rugby sevens team remain in contention for a berth on the lucrative HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series despite a mixed weekend at the opening leg of the second tier World Rugby Challenger Series event in Viña del Mar, Chile.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The Cheetahs settled for sixth position in the first leg of the 16-team series on Sunday following a 14-19 loss to Pacific Islanders Tonga in their fifth place play-off match at the Estadio Sausalito.
Zimbabwe’s sixth place means they remain within touching distance of a top eight finish ahead of the second leg of the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series scheduled for Montevideo, Uruguay starting on Saturday.
The top eight ranked teams after the final round of the series in Uruguay will earn a slot at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifier at the Hong Kong Sevens later this month with the tournament winner becoming a core member on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in 2021.
The journey towards earning core status for all the aspirants, however, got underway in Chile this weekend.
Zimbabwe initially got their campaign off to an unconvincing start in their first two matches in pool D, narrowly beating minnows Brazil 21-14 and coming from 7-10 down at the break to beat another lowly ranked side Mexico 24-15.
The Cheetahs, however, failed to secure top spot in the group after a 19-24 loss to hosts Chile, which meant they faced a tough quarter-final tie against a strong Japanese side which was a core member on the World Rugby Sevens Series last season.
Despite putting on a strong first half display against the Japanese, the Cheetahs were knocked out of title contention in the quarter-finals following a 33-0 defeat.
Gilbert Nyamutsamba’s men bounced back from the quarter-final loss by defeating Papua New Guinean 26-19 in a fifth place semi-final match before the loss to Tonga in the playoff final to settle for sixth position on the 16-team log with 12 points.
Meanwhile, Germany won the first men’s tournament of the inaugural HSBC World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series after beating Hong Kong 10-0 in the final.
Former Zimbabwe star Manasah Sita, who scored 17 tries in 28 appearances for Zimbabwe on the World Rugby Sevens Series circuit until his last call up in 2016, was part of the Germany side after he became eligible to represent the European side in June last year. Germany leads the standings with 22 points, followed by Hong Kong with 19 points while Japan is in third place going into the second-leg that starts on Saturday in Uruguay.