Sables sorrow for Smiley

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THE Zimbabwe rugby fraternity reacted with shock and sorrow at the news that United Kingdom-based Sables lock forward Sanele “Smiley” Sibanda passed away on May 1 in a car accident.

BY DANIEL NHAKANISO

He was 29.

Affectionately known as Smiley in local rugby circles due to his infectious smile, the affable Sibanda had established himself as a key member of the Sables squad for almost a decade since making his debut in 2011.

A product of Milton and Plumtree high schools, Sibanda started his club career with Matabeleland Busters in Bulawayo before moving to South Africa where he played for the Durban-based sides College Rovers and Harlequins.

Having spent most of his career in South Africa, Sibanda recently moved to the US where he was studying for a bachelor’s degree in sports and exercise with the University of Hull while also playing for Hull RUFC.

The towering lock last represented the country when he featured for the Zimbabwe Academy squad in their maiden season in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge in South Africa last year.

The Zimbabwe Rugby Union led the tributes for Sibanda describing him as a Sables stalwart who represented the country with distinction during his career.

“It is with great sadness that the Zimbabwe Rugby Union announces the passing of Sanele Nkosana ‘Smiley’ Sibanda, a Sables stalwart in an unfortunate automobile accident. A gentle giant ever-smiling” read a statement by the ZRU.
“The ZRU would like to extend their condolences to the Sibanda family. May they be comforted during this sad time. Gone too soon Sanele Smiley Sibanda” the statement added.

Sables coach Brendan Dawson, who handed Sibanda his national team debut during his first stint as head coach, eulogised for the departed star describing him as a talented and disciplined player.

“A gentle ferocious rugby giant. Ever smiling unassuming, passionate, humble, great work ethic, hardworking extremely talented and disciplined player. A vital versatile member of our Sables set up who cemented his position in the team with his aerial ball retention acumen and hard-hitting runs and crunching tackles. Sanele was a true embodiment of resurgence of the Sables. He will be sadly missed. Rest easy gentle giant Smiley.” Dawson said in a statement.

Sibanda’s close friend and Sables teammate Biselele Tshamala recounted the duo’s journey together from their high school days in Plumtree to representing the country at international level.

“My brother, schoolmate, playmate, teammate. My Sable. The sad news of your passing was heart-wrenching and it tore right to my core. From the Plumtree Kabot Field to the international stadiums we have trudged along together. You were always motivating us to take our game to the next level, ever smiling, ever jovial character. Big hit after big hit you always kept the infectious smile on your face. Ever optimistic in adversity,” Tshamala said.