BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
SABLES captain Hilton Mudariki is relishing the opportunity to lead the country’s senior men’s 15s rugby team when they begin their journey towards possible qualification for the 2023 Rugby World Cup after being appointed the substantive skipper for the 2021 season.
The 29-year-old scrumhalf was recently asked to lead the side by head coach Brendan Dawson after initially leading the team on a stand-in basis during the 2019 Victoria Cup campaign.
Mudariki led the Sables two years ago after the then captain Brandon Mandivenga picked up an injury while turning out for the Zimbabwe Academy in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge in South Africa.
Under Mudariki’s leadership, the Sables impressively won the Victoria Cup with a match to spare after a dominant run in the four-nation competition in which they played home and way matches against Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.
The gifted scrumhalf will skipper his country for the first time this season on Wednesday when he leads the Sables on to the field against Zambia in a composite friendly at the Machinery Exchange Stadium at Harare Sports Club.
“It’s an honour and a privilege to play for your country, but to captain is the next level,” Mudariki told Standardsport in an interview.
“I’m hugely honoured; it was a very proud moment for me and my family when I sat with coach Dawson about two weeks ago when he officially named me the captain. It’s an amazing thing, but I also know it comes with a lot of responsibility and I will do the very best I can for the team,” he said.
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Since making his debut in 2013, Mudariki, who is the brother of France-based tighthead prop Farai, has established himself as key member of the Sables squad.
Having been involved in two World Cup qualification campaigns — first under Dawson’s tutelage in 2014 when the Sables came within just a bonus point of qualifying for the 2015 tournament, and recently during Peter de Villiers’ unsuccessful tenure as head coach between February 2018 and May 2019, — Mudariki is one of the most experienced players in the current squad.
The former Jersey Reds half-back expressed satisfaction with the Sables’ ongoing training camp in Harare and attributed its success to the work put in by coaching department and the backing the team has received from various sponsors locally and abroad.
Last week the Sables received a major boost after South African financial services group Nedbank unveiled a year-long sponsorship package worth US$120 000.
The sponsorship from Nedbank and several other sponsors has allowed the technical team to organise a long training camp for an expanded Sables training squad of nearly 50 players in Harare since May 16 ahead of the first stage of the World Cup qualifiers in Tunisia in July.
“The current training camp is the best I’ve been involved in at home since making my Sables debut. I must commend (team manager) Jason (Maritz) and the coaching staff for putting all this together. I must also thank our sponsors for coming on board. We know that in these times without sponsors, something like this would never be able to happen so just we just want to thank our sponsors and coaches for putting all this together.”
In preparation for the Rugby Africa Cup fixtures, the Sables will take on Zambia in Harare on Wednesday and Saturday, and then clash with the Namibian Welwitschias in home-and-away ties.
They will then round off their preparations with a game against a Blue Bulls select side in July before they leave for Tunisia.
“Obviously we haven’t played rugby for two years so we don’t know exactly how Zambia or Namibia are going to approach the matches, so we just want to focus on how we want to play,” Mudariki said ahead of the upcoming matches.
“We know the bigger picture, we want to use these games to make sure that we are ready for Tunisia, but we are definitely taking it one game at a time and the first game is next Wednesday against Zambia,” he said.