GILBERT Nyamutsamba faced a herculean task when he bounced back for his second stint as Zimbabwe Sevens coach in October last year.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Mandated with getting the Cheetahs back to their glory days, Nyamutsamba had inherited a team in disarray following the mass retirement of several key players who had formed the backbone of the team over the past two decades.
Morale was at an all-time low after Zimbabwe had finished a disappointing fifth in the 2016 Rugby Africa Sevens, a far cry from the not-so-distant past when the Cheetahs were the envy of many a team or the continent and a formidable side on the World Rugby Sevens Series, winning several Shield and Bowl finals.
The Cheetahs’ failure in the Africa Cup also came with severe consequences as the team’s hopes of becoming a core member on the world circuit virtually went up in smoke after missing out on the World Rugby Sevens Series core status qualifier at last year’s Hong Kong Sevens.
Simply put, Nyamutsamba was up against it. However, for a man who had been in the trenches with the team both as a player and later as coach, he says it was a challenge he took up with the belief that it was not an insurmountable task.
Opening up for the first time on his team’s journey towards qualifying for next year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens during the recent continental qualifiers in Uganda, Nyamutsamba said everything was staked against his charges heading into the World Cup qualifying campaign.
“I knew that the challenge was gonna be difficult. Building a new team and boosting morale so that we qualify for the World Cup, all in a space of less than 10 months, was not going to be easy,” Nyamutsamba told The Sports Hub in an exclusive interview last week.
“Last year our team had faced some challenges and didn’t do well, as most senior players had decided to retire, but I still took up the challenge based on the belief that our Zimbabwean players, if well-guided, would give all they have for the love and pride of our country . . . with all the challenges that we faced as a nation from limited funding and administrative disagreements, I am glad that we were able to achieve our objective,” he said.
Last week the Cheetahs took a big step towards redemption by qualifying for next year’s Rugby World Cup Sevens after reaching the Rugby Africa Sevens Championship final in Kampala, Uganda.
It will be a fifth Rugby World Cup Sevens appearance for Zimbabwe, who appeared at the 1997, 2001, 2009 and 2013 tournaments.
The World Cup qualification also came with another prize as they will again take their place at Cape Town and Hong Kong rounds of the 2018 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series alongside the 15 core teams.
Nyamutsamba, who will now be taking the Cheetahs to their third World Cup, having made his debut in 2009 as assistant coach to Liam Middleton and four years later as head coach, said qualification had come at the right time for the domestic game.
“Qualifying for the World Cup has brought joy to the local rugby community and our nation as a whole, so being part of the team that has brought so much meaning to our sport that can only make one have a better appreciation of how hard work pays off at the end,” he said.
“Now that we are a team going to the World Cup, there is more interest in the team, firstly from other players who now want to be part of the team and the corporate world. Even government is now beginning to show some interest, so this achievement has not only saved rugby, but has actually secured a future for the sport. We can only get better from here on.”
Nyamutsamba also allayed fears that his charges were going to the World Cup just to make up the numbers.
“We are certainly not going to the World Cup to make up the numbers and our previous record speaks volumes of how far we have come as a rugby nation. From our last three appearances we have improved on our final positions with each tournament,” he said.
“In our first two World Cup appearances in 1997 and 2001, we finished 22nd and then followed it up with a 17th place finish in 2009. At the last Word Cup in 2013 when I was in charge of the team, we achieved our best ever position after finishing 13th out of 24 countries. By no means do we come out 13th at a global event and still be looked at as just adding numbers. We deserve to be there and we are gonna do all we can to get the team ready so that we fully compete at that big stage.”
A loyal servant to Zimbabwean rugby for the last 27 years, Nyamutsamba, then a multi-talented sportsman, made his debut for the Sables in 1992 when he was just 21.
Two years earlier as a teenager, Nyamutsamba, who also earned provincial colours in soccer and basketball, was named the then Lifeboy National Junior Sportsperson of the Year in recognition of his exploits as a national team sprinter.
After his Sables debut in 1992, Nyamutsamba would take a break from international rugby to focus on football.
He played for Bata Power before being signed by Gweru United when they gained promotion into the Premiership.
“I worked for Bata Shoe Company and I was playing rugby for Gweru Sports Club then. However, I managed to make it into the Bata Power Super League team, and then later played for Gweru United in the Premier League,” he said.
Ten years after making his Sables debut, Nyamutsamba finally returned to represent Zimbabwe in the game he loved, doing so at Busters Sports Club in Bulawayo after moving from Gweru to start his own business.
“Rugby was always my passion and I found myself back in rugby, playing for the Sables at centre and Sevens as a playmaker and centre,” he said.
Nyamutsamba’s passion for sport has also rubbed off to his family, with his wife Maureen and two sons Takudzwa and Nathan also heavily involved in different sports in Matabeleland.
“I am married to Maureen and we have two boys. Our first born Takudzwa is in sixth form and he is part of the Zimbabwe national swimming team [current holder of a junior 50m freestyle national record],” he said.
“Nathan is in Grade Six and still trying to find, which sporting discipline to specialise in. For now he is into rugby, swimming and hockey. My wife is the chairperson for the Matabeleland Swimming Board… so lots of sports talk in the family.”
The Bulawayo businessman is also involved in development programmes in his hometown where he helped a number of schools in the City of Kings including Petra and Milton, as well as in the Western Suburbs development team.