The story of Zimbabwe junior rugby cannot be complete without mentioning Mbare Rugby Academy, an institution that has transcended the boundary of limitation, emerging from an area synonymous with poverty, crime and all forms of societal ills to become one of the best sporting academies in the country.
Only last year Zimbabwe Cheetahs speedster 23-year-old Stephen Hunduza, a product of Mbare, captured the imagination of the rugby world on his international debut in Hong Kong, running in three tries as Zimbabwe clobbered Barbados 49-5.
Other accomplished players from this unlikely location include former Cheetahs captain and coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba, Germany-based Manasa Sita, Njabulo Ndhlovu and Samson Mukuku who plays for Old Hararians, to mention but a few.
Currently boasting of at least 150 future stars, Mbare Academy ironically has no proper home. They operate from the home of one of the academy’s founder members Victor Pekani and use Harare Sports Club for training because they do not have a training ground of their own.
Many children from Mbare have secured scholarships into some of the top rugby playing schools in Harare including Churchill, Prince Edward (PE), Kyle College and Vainona.
“It was rare to see children from Mbare going to such top schools as Churchill, which was the first top school to accept our children, but right now we have a lot of children in other very good schools, which is good for their rugby development,” said Pekani, who is one of the directors.
“Currently we have eight of our kids at Churchill, three at Prince Edward, four at Kyle College while Vainona has the bulk of our academy kids with a total of 45, both boys and girls on scholarship,” he added.
But things have been far from rosy for the Mbare-based academy, which is facing all sorts of challenges. The academy receives little support from former Zimbabwe Rugby Union president Themba Sibanda and a few others, without which there would probably be no academy to talk about.
Mbare Academy was formed in 2000 when Pekani, one of the coaches Milton Rankeni, Tawanda Mandizvidza and a few others decided to start an academy to keep the children from the crime-prone community off the streets and to instill discipline through playing rugby.
While publicity has brought impressive results on the field of play, the academy aims higher.
“First of all, we need support that comes from the parents and then support from the corporate world for us to achieve our goals. What we would really want is our own training ground here in Mbare. Harare Sports Club has availed theirs to us but they can take it away anytime,” Pekani said.
In Mbare, the academy sometimes uses a council pitch near Stoddart Hall for training, which is untenable especially as local football clubs also train there, a situation that creates confusion.
Mbare Academy has produced many players who are plying their trade in South Africa such as Marshall Mandizvidza, Reason Phiri, Howard Tigere, Innocent Vito and Kudzanayi Munangi, among others.
Since they started competing with others schools back in 2010, Mbare Academy has taken at least 26 local titles while their Under-16 men’s team is virtually unbeatable. The Vainona High ladies’ rugby team made up of players from the academy is highly rated.
“Surprisingly, most of our drills are not from the book. We always visit other clubs and coaches just to see how they do their training and we have realised that our techniques are more superior. As such, we have a lot of youngsters from PE, St Johns and other top schools coming to join our training camps during the holidays,” the former Mbare High student said.
The academy has been invited to Botswana this month where they will engage an as-yet-unnamed club in Francistown before playing two more games in Gaborone.
In 2013, a CBZ powered Mbare Rugby Academy’s Under-18 team was invited to the annual Nashua Middelburg Sevens tournament in South Africa where they gave a good account of themselves.
While the Under-16 teams dominate at the annual Dairibord Rugby Festival, they are not eligible to play in the top schools league.
“Our greatest desire is to finally have our own club playing in the national rugby league and that’s where we are going. We would also love to be able to play in the top schools league as well as enter tournaments where we may also compete,” said the Mbare Academy director.
Taking care of players ranging between six to 19 years of age, the academy was registered with Zimbabwe Rugby Union in 2007 and is well-known for performing the haka before games.
A haka is a traditional ancestral war cry, dance or challenge of the Maori people of New Zealand which the New Zealand national rugby union team, the “All Blacks” has adopted and performs at the international rugby stage.