BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
AFTER several near-misses, heartbreaks and failed campaigns in the past, Zimbabwe’s flagship rugby side will hope to finally end their 30-year wait for a third Rugby World Cup appearance by winning the 2022 Rugby Africa Cup which gets underway in France on Friday.
The Sables class of 2022 will begin their bid to qualify for next year’s Rugby World Cup when they face Ivory Coast in a Rugby Africa quarterfinal match at the Stade Pierre-Delort in Marseille, France.
Zimbabwe has to win the eight-team competition to secure Africa’s sole automatic ticket to the World Cup.
Namibia, who have been Africa’s second representative alongside South Africa at the World Cup since making their debut in 1999 are likely to pose the biggest threat in the Sables quest.
Zimbabwe has not won a Test match against Namibia since 2001, but they will need to beat their old nemesis, who they are likely to face in the semi-finals on July 6 if they are to end their long wait for a World Cup ticket.
The Namibia team, who are nicknamed the Welwitschias, are expected to win their quarterfinal match against Burkina Faso on Friday.
Historically, Namibia has always found a way to get the better of the Sables, but the Zimbabwean side will be quietly confident of finally breaking the jinx.
The Sables are fresh from an impressive victory over a higher-ranked Netherlands last Saturday, having arrived in France a week earlier following their participation in the Currie Cup First Division in South Africa.
Zimbabwe rugby legend Brendan Dawson, a leading member of the Sables squad that made the last of their two tournament appearances in 1991, was coach of the team when they missed out on the automatic ticket to Namibia at England 2015 by a single point.
Despite the euphoria which followed the Sables’ victory over the Netherlands, the team’s first-ever win in Europe, Dawson is not leaving anything to chance.
While he was delighted with the team’s win over Netherlands, he admitted that his side must make some adjustments to qualify for the next edition of the tournament.
“We are happy with our performance,” Dawson said after the Netherlands tie.
“We scrummed really nicely, our work was really good. We are very happy with the backline, the backline performed really nicely. Something we have to work on, we need to attack from depth.
He added: “We were flat on certain stages where we forced the passes because we were too flat, but we will work on that this week and we will work on our breakdown area where we allowed them (Netherlands) to be a bit slow on the ball. Obviously, the Ivory Coast will not be quicker. But generally, we are very happy and obviously winning for the first time in history against a higher-ranked team of 26 and where we sit in 34, it is massive for us going into the qualifiers.”
Zimbabwe’s match in Amsterdam was the Sables first away tie to European opposition since 2014 when they faced Russia in a 2015 Rugby World Cup playoff match, and the win gives Dawson so much confidence ahead of the World Cup qualifiers.
The Bulawayo-born former Sables captain, however, still found some faults in his team.
“We were not clinical in certain areas like the breakdowns against the Netherlands,” Dawson said.
“We were not quick enough in the breakdowns. We got to work on that this week. Young Taku (Musingwini) did well at fullback, we were really happy with his performance. (Outside-centre; Matthew) McNab really played nicely in the midfield alongside Taku Chieza, so sound and good in the backline. So overall, we are happy to be the first team to go as a Zimbabwean team and beat a European team. So hopefully we don’t get beyond ourselves, we have a big task this Friday against Ivory Coast.”
Sables final squad
Tyran Fagan, Victor Mupunga, Gabriel Sipapate, Cleopas Kundiona, Matthew Mandiona, Bornwell Gwinji, Liam Larkan, Royal Mwale, Godfrey Munzanargwo, Goodwin Mangenje, Sean Beevor, Biselele Tshamala, Kelvin Kanenungo, Johan Du Preez, Nyasha Tarusenga, Aiden Burnett, Jason Fraser, Tapiwa Tsomondo, Hilton Mudariki, Kyle Galloway, Takudzwa Musingwini, Takudzwa Chieza, Riaan O’Niel, Marcus Nel, Tapiwa Mafura, Matthew McNab, Shingi Katsvere, James Forrester, Shayne Makombe, Ngoni Chibuwe, Martin Mangongo
Travelling reserves: Tawanda Matipano, George Saungweme, Carlos Matematema
Head coach: Brendan Dawson
Assistant coach: Pieter Benade
Assistant coach: Ashley Wells
Assistant coach: Graham Knoop
Team manager: Jason Maritz
Team doctor: Tapfuma Parirenyatwa
- Follow Daniel onTwitter @danielnhakaniso