ZIMBABWE’S Sevens rugby side would have easily been considered one of the favourites to win the upcoming HSBC World Sevens core team qualifying tournament which runs from Friday to Sunday in Hong Kong.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
In fact, the Cheetahs won the Hong Kong qualifying tournament twice but sadly, they were not able to become a core on the lucrative HSBC World Sevens as the qualifying criteria World Rugby used at the time was different from the current one.
The Cheetahs also suffered several near misses, with probably the most heartbreaking coming in 2012 when Zimbabwe beat Canada 24-21 in the semis and led Portugal 17-7 in the final with a minute to play, for the right to participate in every World Series tournament the following year.
Somehow the Cheetahs imploded and Portugal scored twice before the hooter to win 21-17. More heartbreaking near misses were to come in 2013 and 2014, but the Cheetahs remained one of top teams outside the core teams.
Retirements of key players, lack of regular competition and limited funding over the years mean the Cheetahs are no longer the force they once were and this has forced Cheetahs coach Gilbert Nyamutsamba to reconsider his targets.
Nyamutsamba, who is currently on a rebuilding mission of the side after bouncing back as Cheetahs coach last year, told Standardsport in an interview yesterday that his focus is on building for the long term and not on immediate results.
“Our focus at the moment is not really about instant results, we’re still rebuilding, remember this is a team we started rebuilding last year following the retirement of most key players. We are still trying to get together a team that can compete against the top teams in the world like we used to do in the recent past.”
Nyamutsamba expects a tough test of character for his charges in the upcoming HSBC World Sevens Series core team qualifying tournament at the Hong Kong Sevens, which they will also use to gauge their preparedness for the Rugby World Cup Sevens to be held in the United States later this year.
“The upcoming qualifying tournament at the Hong Kong Sevens is part and parcel of that process as it is the first taste of an international tournament for some of the players. We have three debutants at international level in Connor Pritchard, Ziyanda Khupe and Ngoni Chibuwe, and it’s going to be a big opportunity for the young lads. It will be a big stage for them, but it’s something that they will have to get used to as we prepare for the World Cup,” he said.
The Cheetahs are expected to leave the country early this morning for the Hong Kong tournament, where they will do battle against 11 other nations for the sole ticket during this year’s qualifiers.
Zimbabwe, who are making a return to the important qualifying tournament after missing out in 2017, were drawn in Pool F where they will play Germany, Papua New Guinea and hosts Hong Kong.
Uganda are in Pool E alongside Japan, Chile and Georgia while the last in the qualifying tournament features Ireland, Uruguay, Jamaica and Cook Islands.