NATIONAL rugby side, the Sables, find themselves in the unfamiliar territory of Siberia for a crucial World Cup play-off duel against Russia in the city of Krasnoyarsk next weekend.
By Munyaradzi Madzokere
Following the heartbreak in Madagascar where the impressive Brendan Dawson-coached side narrowly missed on automatic qualification for the 2015 England World Cup to rivals Namibia, the rugby flagship side continue to chase the World Cup dream via the gruelling play-off route.
Defeat for the Sables will all but extinguish every iota of hope for making it to England while a win will leave either Uruguay or Hong Kong as the last hurdle to the Promised Land.
The Sables fielded arguably their best balanced side at the Africa Cup in Madagascar in recent years, that opened up the opposition with relative ease as the tries kept coming.
Most impressive was the tidy 28-10 victory over pre-tournament favourites Kenya, which was not good enough to allow them automatic qualification.
Loose forward Jacques Leitao was unstoppable, scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki was arguably the best Sable on view, while fly half Guy Cronje had a knack of keeping the score ticking with his kicks and eigthman Lambert Groenewald continually showed amazing ball-carrying ability.
These players among others such as front rowers Denford Mutamangira and Kevin Nqindi will be key as the Sables look to upset the 20th ranked Russians in their own backyard.
The Russians made their World Cup debut in 2011 and impressed against giants Australia in one of the group matches, scoring three tries and are keen to return to the global competition.
Coached by Kingsley Jones, the Russians have sadly lost their last three international encounters including a 66-0 drubbing at the hands of Ireland, a result that surely gives Zimbabwe a glimmer of hope.
The Sables’ build-up to the crucial tie has been dealt a huge blow by the withdrawal of utility backs Tangai Nemadire, Gerald Sibanda and forwards Njabulo Ndlovu and Schalke Ferreira.
Nemadire and Gerald Sibanda made themselves unavailable for the Russia trip due to differences with the technical staff while Ferreira and Ndlovu miss out due to injury.
South Africa-based backliner Shayne Makombe, Old Georgians lock Fortune Chipendu and Old Hararians eighthman Takunda Chifokoyo were named as the replacements.
The Sable left the country on Friday morning and will hold a one-week long training session before they tackle the hosts.
Possible opponents Uruguay and Hong Kong, all ranked above Zimbabwe, clash on the same day for a date with the winner between Zimbabwe and Russia.
The last team standing will secure the last place in Pool A alongside the hosts England, Wales, Australia and Fiji at the 2015 IRB Rugby World Cup.