By Daniel Nhakaniso
SABLES coach Brendan Dawson says his players will not underestimate Ivory Coast when the two nations clash in a quarterfinal match of the 2022 Rugby Africa Cup at the Stade Delort in Marseille, France tonight.
The crucial match, which kicks off at 9pm follows the Namibia and Burkina Faso clash.
With the winners of the two matches set to meet in the semi-finals on Thursday, a win for Zimbabwe against the Elephants of Ivory Coast would take them closer to realising their goal of qualifying for next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Ivory Coast is currently ranked 42nd on the World Rugby rankings, 15 places below the Sables.
However, the West Africans, whose side is dominated by players plying their trade in the French lower leagues, have in the past shown that they can compete with the best teams in Africa by shocking Namibia back in July 2021.
Ivory Coast is the only other African team besides Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia to qualify for a Rugby World Cup, competing at the 1995 tournament in South Africa.
In an interview with NewsDay Sport from France yesterday, Dawson said they are expecting a tough game against Ivory Coast.
“The problem is we haven’t managed to get any footage on them (Ivory Coast). Recently, they played one match against Algeria and they were beaten convincingly but we know, the whole team plays in France,” Dawson said.
“They are solid men, very big and physical guys, so they are going to be tough. It is going to be a difficult game. I think a lot of people don’t know the level that some of the Ivory Coast players are playing which is a high standard because as I said they are all playing in the French leagues. It is going to be tough but we are excited about the challenge and really looking forward to it,” he said.
The Sables have been boosted by the availability of the gifted Currie Cup-winning fullback Tapiwa Mafura for tonight’s crunch encounter.
The 26-year-old lighting fast outside back will start the match at fullback hoping to continue his memorable season after guiding his South African side Pumas to a maiden Currie Cup triumph last Saturday.
Mafura was a key member of the Pumas outfit which defied the odds by winning South Africa’s premier domestic competition for the first time in their history after beating favourites Griquas in an epic final in Kimberly.
He will be hoping for a similar impact with the Sables as they begin their quest to qualify rugby’s global showpiece event for the first time since 1991. Mafura is one of the four new additions to the Sables squad which beat Netherlands 30-7 in a high-profile international friendly in Amsterdam last Saturday.
He replaces rising starlet Takudzwa Musingwini in the only change to the Sables backline while the three other changes are in the forwards.
There are two changes upfront with the duo of loosehead Tyran Fagan and Cleopas Kundiona making way for Victor Mupunga and Bornwell Gwinji, respectively.
University of Johannesburg rising star Kelvin Kanenungo is the only uncapped player in the squad after replacing Biselele Tshamala at openside flank.
Matches between the Sables and Ivory Coast have been v few and far in-between.
The most famous clash between the two teams was in May 1990 when the Sables side, which was captained by scrum-half Andy Ferreira, won 22-9 at the Police Grounds on their way to qualifying for the 1991 World Cup.
Sables starting line-up: (1-15): Victor Mupunga, Liam Larkan, Bornwell Gwinji, Sean Beevor, Godfrey Muzanargwo, Jason Fraser, Kelvin Kanenungo, Nyasha Tarusenga, Hilton Mudaiki, Marcus Nel, Shingirai Katsvere, Takudzwa Chieza, Matthew McNab, Shayne Makombe, Tapiwa Mafura
Replacements: (16-23): Mathew Mandioma, Tran Fagan, Cleopas Kundiona, Godwin Mangenje, Aiden Burnett, Kyle Goodwin, James Forrester, Ngoni Chibuwe
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