Sables abort Portugal trip due to COVID-19 concerns

BY DANIEL NHAKANISO

THE Sables have been forced to cancel their trip to Portugal for a high-profile international rugby friendly match against the hosts following reports of a spike in coronavirus cases in Lisbon, the Portuguese capital.

Portuguese authorities at the weekend confirmed suspicions that the Delta coronavirus variant, first identified in India, is driving a spike in new cases in the Lisbon region amid fears of a fourth wave of the pandemic.

Zimbabwe’s national rugby side was set to play Portugal in Lisbon on July 3 after receiving an invitation from the Portuguese Rugby Federation.

The trip had been approved by the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC), which on Tuesday evening gave the Sables the greenlight to travel to the European nation.

Sables team manager Jason Maritz told NewsDay Sport yesterday that they had been forced to cancel their trip after failing to get visas from the Portuguese embassy in Harare due to concerns over the more infectious Delta coronavirus variant.

“Unfortunately, the Portugal trip has been cancelled due to us not being awarded visas by the Portuguese embassy in Harare. We had been invited to play Portugal. The Test match was scheduled for July 3, and everything was on course, pending visas and approval from the SRC, which we had got. Sadly, we didn’t manage to get visas due to concerns over the outbreak of the new Delta variant in Lisbon this last weekend,” Maritz said.

“They (the Portuguese embassy) didn’t feel that a rugby game or a friendly match so to speak with no bearing on any tournament was a good decision to be made considering the COVID-19 situation.”

The Sables, who are ranked 35th in the world, were hoping to use the match to test themselves against higher ranked opponents ahead of next month’s Rugby Africa Cup Pool D in Tunisia.

Portugal is ranked 21st on the World Rugby rankings and would have provided the Sables with an opportunity to measure their level of preparedness ahead of the start of the World Cup qualifiers.

“This was a great opportunity for us to play a top team and make a statement on the international stage, but such is life. We have to move on,” Maritz said.

The Sables intended to go straight to Tunisia from Portugal, but will now head to the North African country on Friday for a two-week camp ahead of Rugby Africa Cup, which will be played at Stade Mustapha Ben Jannet in Monastir.

They are hoping to play a Tunis local side as part of their preparations.

Zimbabwe take on Burkina Faso on July 13 and then clash with Tunisia four days later.

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