A 33-MEN Zimbabwe rugby training squad goes into camp in Harare on Sunday ahead of the crucial opening World Cup qualifier/Africa Cup match against Namibia in Windhoek next Saturday.
As has become the norm, there will be no centre Daniel Hondo. The Sevens star player went back to England after spending two months in Zimbabwe during which he represented the national Sevens side in three African circuit tournaments.
Hondo completed his studies in the UK early this year, and took a break at home before going back overseas on a contract-hunting mission.
Due to the prevailing terrible economic situation, its ever hard for the union to bring back players for international matches, but in Hondo’s case, what raises questions each time is that the talented centre has always been flown back to play in Sevens tournaments. The union constantly acknowledge that Sevens is a stepping stone to the fifteens game.
“Unfortunately Danny has gone back to the UK,” said Sables manager Losson Mtongwiza.
Making a comeback however, is tear-away Sevens winger Wes Mbanje, who like Hondo, has been in Sables wilderness for some time.
In general the squad looks balanced at a glance, boosted as it is by the availability of flanker and former captain Costa Dinha, who arrived in the country from Germany last week.
Then there is also the big lock forward Arthur Mate, who jets in today from the UK.
Coach Brendan Dawson could be spoilt for choice both in the tight and loose forwards departments.
“We are very, very happy to have Costa back. He is a big player for us. We spoke with him earlier in the year and he said he was eager to be part of the dream,” Mtongwizo said.
The only new inclusion in the entire training squad is hooker Justin Buchanan, who has played in Ireland and South Africa, but is presently back home in Bulawayo. Buchanan, together with fellow hooker Devon Esbach of Districts, are the only uncapped players in the squad. Esbach travelled with the Sables for the friendly in Zambia in May, but was not given a run. There was however no place for Old Hararians prop Alfred Sairai, who had made the loosehead position his personal property for seven years. Sairai was dropped from the Zambia trip due to fitness problems, but his club coach Bongai Zamchiya yesterday said the experienced 26-year-old front rower was now in good shape.
“He is my number one for loosehead,” Zamchiya said. “I’m not sure why he wasn’t called-up. But obviously the national selectors have a different position.”
The Sables technical department is also hoping to fortify the backline, and has called up veteran flyhalf Neill Nortje.
Nortje first earned his national stripes as a Sable, but later established himself as a Sevens specialist. Underrated locally, his organising-flyhalf type has won him admirers on the international Sevens circuit.
“We are also happy to have Nortje, he has played at a high level in Sweden and South Africa. He is a well-known playmaker at Sevens, where he is part and parcel of the team. We hope to have all these people so that we can have a good look at them.”
Although conceding the underdog tag going into the match, Mtongwiza said the Sables’ blend of attacking rugby gives them an edge:
“The guys have the right attitude. Everyone is willing to fight for a jersey, so it can only be good for us.
I think they (Namibia) have better individuals than us. But in some respect we play better as a team unit. We will play a different type of rugby, the fast game that’s not always seen in the Currie Cup where most of the Namibians play.”
Sables training squad
Forwards: Piet Joubert, Rocky Gurumani, Danford Mutamangira, Justin Buchanan, Dumisani Ncube, Raymond Dzvairo, Devon Esbach, Dustin Wilcox, Fortune Chipendo, Arthur Mate, Shaun Saywood, Gardner Nechironga, Costa Dinha, Jacques Leitao, Prayer Chitenderu, Norman Mukondiwa.
Backs: Cleopas Makotose (captain), Donald Mangenje, Gary Hewitt, Tich Chidongo, Ketumetsi Tlou, Danny Robertson, Happy Nyatanga, Neill Nortje, Grant Mitchell, Paul Staak, Willis Magasa, Alex Ndangana, Manasah Sita, Gerald Sibanda, Wes Mbanje, Tangai Nemadire, Tafadzwa Mhende.