BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
ZIMBABWE’S hopes of testing themselves against their biggest rivals Namibia ahead of the first phase of the 2023 Rugby World Cup qualifiers in Tunisia next month have been dealt a blow following the withdrawal of the Welwitchias from two scheduled Test matches against the Sables.
The Sables, who kick-started their preparations with back-to-back wins on home soil against Zambia last week, were scheduled to face their bitter rivals Namibia in two high-profile matches in Harare and Windhoek on June 12 and 19, respectively.
Namibia, who have qualified for the last six editions of the World Cup since 1999, were expected to provide the Sables with the competitive game time they need as they seek to qualify for the global rugby showpiece event for the first time in 30 years.
Sables team manager Jason Maritz told NewsDay Sport in an interview yesterday that they are currently pursuing alternative options after the Namibia Rugby Union (NRU) revealed that it was unable to fulfil the matches due to COVID-19 restrictions still in place in the southern African nation.
“At this stage, the matches against Namibia are off, but we are pushing for alternative options with them and other teams,” Maritz, a former Zimbabwe youth international said.
Namibia’s withdrawal comes after reports that its governing body NRU had requested Rugby Africa to postpone the Gold Cup Pool A tournament to November, as a result of the ban on contact sports in the country from June 1 to 30 due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Namibia are set to host the event from July 1 to 12.
However, the ban on contact sports includes all training activities.
A statement by the NRU on Friday said for the tournament to be kept in Windhoek, Rugby Africa requested a guarantee that the ban will be lifted on July 1, 2021.
“Neither the NRU nor the Namibian government, as expressed by themselves, are in a position to issue such a guarantee. As a result of the above-mentioned, the NRU has requested the Exco [executive committee] of Rugby Africa to postpone the tournament to the fall-back date in November 2021, with Namibia still as the host,” the statement read.
Namibia are also scheduled to send their Under-20 team to Kenya to compete in the upcoming Rugby Africa Barthes Trophy from June 24 to July 3, as well as host the historic match between the Namibian national women’s team against Zambia in June.
The NRU further said after two consultations with the country’s Sports minister Agnes Tjongarero, she informed the union that no exception could be made to a specific sport code and that government regulations issued on May 28 would remain in place until June 30.
The withdrawal of the Welwitchias is a blow for the Sables as they were expected to provide the ideal competition Brendan Dawson’s charges need in their attempt to win the Africa Cup and secure their ticket to 2023.
Zimbabwe, who have been camping in Harare, began their preparations with a 31-7 win over Zambia on Wednesday before producing a more clinical performance in the second match which they won 56-3 on Saturday.
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