SABLES coach Peter de Villiers’ decision to build the nucleus of his current squad around locally-based players and his unwillingness to fuse in players plying their trade beyond the country’s borders has stirred a lot of debate within local rugby circles in recent weeks.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
The debate has raged on while calls for a change of approach have grown louder as the Sables’ chances of qualifying for next year’s World Cup have become slimmer with each passing weeks.
Heading into yesterday’s third round of matches, the Sables, who last featured at the World Cup in 1991, had failed to register a win in their first two matches after drawing against Morocco before losing away to Kenya eight days ago.
Regardless of the slow start to the campaign, the South African tactician has bravely continued to put faith in the vast majority of players who endured a horrific last two Rugby Africa Gold Cup campaigns.
“The results have so far been disappointing but it’s not only the results we are disappointed about, but also because of the fact that we’ve shattered the hopes of our fellow countrymen back home,” De Villiers told The Sports Hub in an exclusive interview.
“To me, that’s more painful than everything else, how do you look at a little boy in the face when you’ve shattered his hopes? I completely understand that the fans are not happy, they have the right to express their disappointment because we’ve not had the instant success that they expected.”
De Villiers said while he understood the fans’ disappointment over the failure to get positive results in the first two matches, he was glad to have played a part in empowering a new generation of young players.
Since his appointment, de Villiers has handed Sables debuts to eight players, the majority of whom have been part of the team’s youth sides in the last two to three years.
In fact, six of the new players — namely wing Matthew McNab, centre Brendon Mandivenga, fullback Shingi Katsvere, prop Cleopas Kundiona and half-backs Ernest Mudzengerere and Jeremiah Jaravaza — have featured for the Junior Sables during the annual Craven Week tournaments in South Africa.
The other debutants include former Matabeleland Warriors towering lock Kudakwashe “Goofy” Nyakufaringwa, Nelspruit Rugby Club lock Johan Stander and England-based Dylan Baptista, a winger who plays for Tottonians in the London 1 South league, the sixth tier of English rugby.
“I’m happy that I have changed the lives of a few players who now understand what it means to be a professional rugby player. What it’s all about is to represent their country and what it means to be an ambassador and to stand up for those who will never be able to have these kind of privileges,” he said.
The former Springboks mentor said he was motivated by the desire to create new heroes for Zimbabwean rugby which he hopes would inspire the next generation.
“I believe we’re on our way to building a great team, we’ve a lot of youngsters most of whom are based in the country and never would have had the chance to represent their country and be proud of themselves. So I believe we’re on the right track, I believe anybody who left the country for one reason or another we respect it, but we want to create role models for our kids,” he said.
De Villiers said he was saddened by the fact that most of the country’s rugby heroes were either playing for other nations or outside the country’s borders.
“When I spoke to these players and asked them who were their role models from the past, not one of them could name anybody based in Zimbabwe. So I want the players to be in the country and one day a school kid on his way to school will see them walking in the streets and aspire to be like them and if we can manage to have that, children will strive to be like other people who are in their country.”
“Sadly, at the moment we have a situation where all our role models are outside the country and people don’t respect our own country and I believe if we’re going to build something that’s everlasting for our nation in the new dispensation, we have to help everyone to understand that nothing in the country will improve if we don’t make it happen.”
While de Villiers has succeeded in fostering a new team culture, the jury will still be out after the conclusion of the ongoing Rugby World Cup qualifiers as the Sables need to finish a minimum of second in the Gold Cup and qualify for the Repechage process to face teams from Europe, Asia and South America for a World Cup ticket.
The Sables, who are currently 13 points adrift of Namibia, already look out of contention for a first-place finish in the Gold Cup which would earn them automatic qualification for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.