CHRIS Lampard is either a man who believes in his own abilities to accomplish something in spite of colossal odds or he is just being optimistic, putting on a brave face under the worst condit
ions experienced in the Sables camp ahead of a match.
After the under-strength Zimbabwe national rugby team laboured to beat Senegal 21-15 in the opening first-round World Cup qualifier last month, the national rugby coach remained buoyant that the even more-weakened Sables side will defy the pitiable setting in their camp to win the tough away fixture against the Ivory Coast in Abidjan tomorrow and sail through to the second round of the qualifiers.
The Sables finally left Harare for the strife-torn country yesterday after changing the initial travel arrangements, which had the Sables only arriving in Abidjan on Friday evening, which meant the team was not going to have the obligatory practice session at the match venue.
The Zimbabwe technical team and players objected to the arrangements to the organisers, the IRB Africa development office in Uganda, which local rugby suspect could be trying to frustrate Zimbabwe’s chances of a possible win in Abidjan, so that Uganda play Zimbabwe in the play-offs instead of Ivory Coast.
Zimbabwe Rugby Union chief executive Titus Zvomuya announced the changed arrangements on Wednesday, but only because the airline which the team was supposed to use from Harare on Wednesday had cancelled that route.
The 22-member Sables side left without five key players who were in the first 15 against the Senegalese at Prince Edward School last month. As a result, the team will have four debutants in a starting line-up announced by Lampard before the team’s departure yesterday.
The biggest blow to the team is Shingi Chirimuuta, the well-built Old Hararians prop who suffered a broken cheek bone when he was punched in the face by a Senegalese player in a scrummage scuffle.
Chirimuuta, however, ignored the pain and continued to charge towards the opposition front rows, and was together with lock Robbie du Rand and captain/ flanker Max Madziwa, the reason why the much bigger Senegalese pack did not have a field day. But again, du Rand is also out of the team as he is in South Africa on business.
Other players from the first game not available are back Victor Zimbawo who is said to have gone back to his base in Germany, and injured lock Fortune Chipendo. Loose forward Kestel Gertebach, who came on as a blood substitute against Senegal, is out with a knee ligament injury, while second choice scrumhalf Tich Chidongo was surprisingly dropped for Harare Sports Club’s diminutive halfback, Donald Mangenje.
Cheetahs player Willis Magasa comes in for his Sables debut at outside centre in place of veteran Gilbert Nyamutsamba, who sustained a head injury in training. The other debutant, Kuda Kambasha, takes Chirimmuta’s place as tight head prop. The other newcomers are brilliant young three-quarter Tangai Nemadire, who will play on the right wing, while Mbekezeli Ndiweni starts ahead of 32-year-old eighthman Rocky Gurumani in the back row.
Even when the team almost went without lunch on Tuesday afternoon and training was delayed for more than an hour, Lampard was all the same bursting with confidence.
“We are going there to win, definitely. We know they have very big forwards, but we will play our game and it should work for us,” said Lampard.
Former Mashonaland Country Districts coach Lampard was excited about the prospects of going through direct to the second round of the qualifiers with a win in Abidjan tomorrow.
“We are not even thinking about Uganda (in the play-offs). I do not look forward to be second best,” said the former assistant coach.
And as further proof of his trust in his professional judgement, Lampard this week made a self-assured yet unpopular decision when he left out of the travelling squad the experienced Germany-based flank Jeff Tigere, whose prolific tackle rate and power has been a feature of the Zimbabwean side in the past few years.
“You do not necessarily choose the best players when you select a team,” Lampard said. “We select players who suit the team and the game plan at that time. Jeff has been training with the team, but when we considered, we decided to keep the same loose forwards from the first game.”
But the rare dose of good news and a ray of hope for the team is that Nemadire made the trip to the Ivory Coast. The trademark sudden burst of speed, fine handling skills and precise side-steps make Nemadire Zimbabwe’s secret weapon tomorrow.
Another mesmerising presence in the Sables line-up is flyhalf David Cloete, the accurate kicker who pillaged all 21 points to ensure victory for the Sables in the first game. And if left wing Emmanuel Munyoro uses his pace to accurate measurement, and the centres get more into the thick of things, Zimbabwe’s will win the game in the back line. The new pair of locks is Emmanuel Mukandi and Reuben Kumpasa.
The other positions are unchanged, with vice-captain Gary Hewitt partnering Cloete in the halfback department, and Wesley Mbanje remaining at inside centre.
Ivory Coast’s play is concentrated in the forwards pack and their backline rarely comes to the party. The Ivorians’ coach comes from France, and most of their players are French- based professionals The winner tomorrow joins Morocco and Namibia in the second round while the looser plays Uganda in the play-offs.