Rugby ace Phiri pumped up for Cheetahs bow

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BY DANIEL NHAKANISO

Young Sables skipper Sam Phiri is excited at the opportunity to finally realise his goal of representing the national rugby sevens team following his inclusion in the Cheetahs squad announced on Monday.

The 22-year-old wing was a notable inclusion in the Cheetahs squad  which will take part in a week-long Rugby Africa-sponsored Solidarity Camp in Stellenbosch, South Africa, this week ahead of next month’s Olympic Games final qualifier in Monaco.

Hosts South Africa will be accompanied by the Zimbabwe and Uganda national rugby Sevens sides during the Solidarity Camp which will run from May 6 to 16.

The camp will be an opportunity for the highly rated Phiri to stake a claim for a place in the Cheetahs ahead of the all-important Olympic Games qualifier where one remaining slot will be on offer for the 12 participating teams.

Phiri, who until last year was part of the Cape Town-based South African franchise Western Province set-up, said contractual obligations at his former side had previously prevented him from representing the country.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” Phiri said in an interview with NewsDay Sport yesterday.

“I’ve always been in touch with coach Danny (Daniel Hondo), he’s wanted me to play sevens for Zimbabwe for quite a while and I always had commitments with Stormers and Western Province and obviously due to the fact that I had a professional contract with them it meant they came first, but now that I’m no longer with them, this is a good opportunity to get some rugby under my belt.”

A strongly-built young player, blessed with good hands, deft touch, explosive pace and renowned finishing prowess, Phiri will be a valuable addition to the Cheetahs, who will be hoping for a success return to international competition in Monaco.

“I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life. I lost 6kg since I last played competitive rugby and I’m fitter and stronger, so I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.

“I’m quite excited at the opportunity to help us get to the Olympics, which would be special because not everyone gets the chance to do that in their sporting careers. I think we are going to do well at the qualifiers we’ve got a really good squad and I’m looking forward to it.”

Born in Harare, Phiri attended Falcon College in Esigodini, where he excelled in rugby, cricket and his academics.

After an impressive performance at the U18 Craven Week, Phiri was recruited by Western Province, despite completing his schooling a year earlier than his peers.

Solid showing for the Western Province Rugby Academy was enough to earn Phiri countless appearances in the Under-19 and 21 Currie Cup competitions between 2016 and 2019 until he left the franchise last season.

Last year, Phiri was linked with a move to top South African club Lions, but the move fell through as he does not possess a South African passport and is now poised to complete a move with an unnamed French side in August.

After his success in South Africa, Phiri will be hoping to bring a new dimension in the Cheetahs squad announced on Monday, which features several seasoned players who have represented the country on the World Rugby Sevens Series circuit.

Phiri is one of the five uncapped players named in the squad alongside Ryan Magaramombe, Ryan Musumhi, and Rufaro Chakawera.

Zambia-based captain Stephan Hunduza and Germany-based wing Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, who have both been a vital cog of the side over the last few years, headline the squad which has a blend of youth and experience.

The Cheetahs will also bank on the experience of the South Africa-based trio of Biselele Tshamala, Riaan O’Nell as well as Boyd Rouse, who make a return to the side after a lengthy absence.

The training squad of 15 for the Solidarity Camp will be narrowed down to the final 12, who will fight for the ticket to the Tokyo Olympic Games next month with one last ticket up for grabs in Monaco.

The Cheetahs squad, which will be coached by former player Graham Kaulback in the absence of head coach Daniel Hondo, will leave for South Africa on Thursday.

Zimbabwe rugby sevens squad: Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Biselele Tshamala, Nelson Madida, Riaan O’Nell, Mkululi Ndhlela, Godknows Mavara, Shingirai Katsvere, Stephen Hunduza, Boyd Rouse, Kudzai Mashawi, Ryan Magaramombe, Ryan Musumhi, Godfrey Muzanargwo, Sam Phiri and Rufaro Chakawera.

Head coach: Daniel Hondo

Assistant coach: Graham Kaulback

Manager: Keegan Benjamin Peter Cooke

Physiotherapist: Margaret Ruth Gibson

 

  • Follow Daniel on Twitter @NhakanisoDaniel