Sables face bleak year

THE Sables face the grim prospect of going through the whole of 2020 without playing any Test matches after World Rugby’s decision to postpone international games scheduled for the June and July due to the coronavirus pandemic.

BY DANIEL NHAKANISO

Zimbabwe’s national rugby side were bracing for a busy schedule this year with the Brendan Dawson-coached side initially earmarked to feature in three high profile competitions between April and August.

Zimbabwe was expected to get the season underway by fielding an Academy side made up mostly of Sables players in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge which was expected to start last month before their first international Test matches of the season in the 2020 Rugby Africa Cup.

In the Rugby Africa Cup, the Sables were facing encounters against Tunisia away and then Ghana at home, with victories in those matches setting up a likely date against continental rivals Namibia in the semi-finals.

Zimbabwe were also pencilled to defend their Victoria Cup title after the four-nation competition which also featured Kenya, Uganda and Zambia bounced back last season.

However the packed schedule is hanging in the balance. In a joint statement with national unions, organisers of international competitions and athletes’ body International Rugby Players, the sport’s global governing body said the games had been postponed.

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“Extended travel and quarantine restrictions that apply to numerous countries, and concerns over adequate player preparation time, mean that any sort of cross-border international rugby competition cannot be hosted in
July,” World Rugby said.

No new window for the postponed fixtures was assigned, although World Rugby said it was monitoring “the potential impact on the remaining 2020 international windows”.

“All parties, including member unions, international competitions, professional club competitions and
International Rugby Players, will be involved in the continued evaluation of potential contingency options with a view to achieving an aligned calendar for the remainder of the year,” the global body said.

World Rugby’s decision comes after the continental governing body Rugby Africa recently revealed that its activities and competitions remain suspended until further notice as its rugby committee continues consultation with the unions pending a review on May 28.

Rugby Africa President Khaled Babbou explained: “The continuous contact and information exchange with the members unions and regions as well as World Rugby has been constructive. Although the full program of competitions will not be delivered as planned before the end of the year 2020, we are considering several approaches including a return-to-play strategy and the support of regional initiatives for cross-border matches and tournaments if the delivery of continental competitions is impossible”.

“Rugby Africa will work closely with World Rugby on its global return-to-play model in consultation with members
unions and regions and to ensure a bespoke and relevant strategy for Africa whilst aligned with directives and
guidelines from the mother body.”

The next planned international window is in November, although those games could also be at risk if travel
restrictions and bans on large gatherings remain in place.

In the event that the Rugby Africa Cup matches are postponed Zimbabwe’s hopes of getting competitive game time this year would be their participation in this year’s SuperSport Rugby Challenge Cup, provided the COVID-19 pandemic is contained in South Africa and across the region.

Zimbabwe were originally grouped alongside South African provincial sides Western Province, Border, Sharks XV, Free
State XV, Boland Cavaliers, SWD and EP Elephants for this year’s SuperSport Rugby Challenge starting on April 25.

Last year, the Sables used the SuperSport Rugby Challenge as a platform to build a competitive team that went on to win the Victoria Cup.

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