HAVING completed an impressive run on the African circuit which took them to Morocco and Kenya, the Zimbabwe Sevens rugby team is shifting focus, making 2009 IRB Sevens World Cup qualification the chief priority.
The qualifying tournament for the World Cup will be in Tunisia in October.
The Cheetahs were miles of class ahead at the Lusaka Castle Lager Sevens international tournament in Zambia last weekend, dismantling the host 36-5 in the final to successfully defend their title.
The Cheetahs were simply too good for a Zambian team which had benefited from a generous draw which had them avoiding tough opposition up until the final, while the Zimbabweans were pitted with Zimbabwe’s second-string side – Goshawaks – in the quarter-finals, and South Africa’s Golden Lions in a semi-final clash many onlookers agreed should have been the final.
So by the time of the main cup final, the Zambians had not been tested, while Zimbabwe were riding on a wave of good form and confidence.
Cheetahs assistant manager Losson Mtongwiza says Zimbabwe ought to qualify for the World Cup. Three winners from the qualifiers will join South Africa as the continent’s representatives in Dubai next year.
Mtongwiza said: “We are looking good for qualification. I think the three slots will go to us, Kenya and Tunisia. But Namibia, who we hammered in Kenya (Tusker Safari Sevens), will come back strongly with their Currie Cup players, and will test everyone.”
The biggest positive that came out of the Zambia tournament was the performance of “other players,” who carried the team when the big guns were not exactly firing.
Players such as Manasah Sita, who has been converted to hooker, and prop Gardner Nechironga, were the most outstanding players alongside Player-of-the-tournament Slater Ndlovu.
Front-rower Ndlovu fancied the Cheetahs’ qualification chances.
“We have high chances as you saw,” he said. “None of the teams in Zambia had our class. We can compete with any side in the world. We’ve got speed, pace and skill. Our defence is unbreakable. We are certainly World Cup material.”
Bulawayo-based Ndlovu however said the lack of Sevens partners in Bulawayo could disadvantage him personally. “I am the only Sevens player left in Bulawayo after Gardner and Wes (Mbanje) went to South Africa, so I only get XVs practice here, which is a bit of a disadvantage.”
It’s a pity Zimbabwean rugby fans have not had the chance to watch their national Sevens side in action at home due to the high financial requirements of hosting international tournaments – and of late – the country’s increasingly tainted image. Zambian Breweries spent US$80 000 on this year’s Castle Lager Sevens tournament.
By Enock Muchinjo