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Sables face relegation after Namibia loss

ZIMBABWE . . . . . (7) 28
NAMIBIA . . . . . . (27) 58

NAMIBIA extended their 17-year-dominance over Zimbabwe yesterday as the Welwitschias won 58-28 to leave the hosts reeling without a win in the Rugby Africa Gold Cup and on the brink of relegation to the second-tier of African rugby.

BY ENOCK MUCHINJO IN BULAWAYO

Africa’s best rugby team (excluding South Africa) scored nine tries through winger Sethie Desiderius, tight-head prop Wian Conradie, flank Pieter-Jan Venter, substitute flank Tjuuee Uanivi, flanker Janco Venter, replacement scrumhalf Damian Stevens, left winger Lesley Klim as well as captain and flanker Johan Deysel.

The Sables, to their credit, earned a bonus through tries by outstanding flank Connor Pritchard — who keeps growing in stature every Test — as well as lively left winger Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, right winger Shayne Makombe and substitute hooker Matthew Mandioma.

As has been the story of Zimbabwe in this campaign, handling errors and substandard tackling was again the hosts’ worst enemy, with Namibia many a time breaking through to finish off with relative ease after some meek defending by Peter de Villiers’ men.

With Namibia’s much heavier forwards pack having the better of both the tight and loose exchanges — controlling the set-pieces and proving a menace at the breakdown — it meant Zimbabwe’s talented backline wasn’t able to get sufficient clean ball, thus the skills of wingers Chitokwindo and Makombe did not come to the fore until very late in the Test.

On top of his game though for Zimbabwe in the backline was 34-year-old centre Tafadzwa Mhende, who was rock-solid in defence and hardly let anything pass through him, dishing out big hits to the bulkier Namibians — who themselves thrive in such situations — so gave back as much as they received.

He was phenomenon, Mhende, and in his young Harare Sports Club teammate Kudzi Mashawi, Zimbabwe had a midfield pairing that stood out for the better part of the afternoon.

And it was only appropriate that it should be Pritchard who scored first for the Sables. The former Zimbabwe Under-20 captain dived over the line after a series of phases involving almost the entire pack to give the home crowd some glimmer of hope.

Zimbabwe’s second half performances, despite Namibia capitalising on endless mistakes and scoring at regular intervals, was slightly improved.

And it did not come as a surprise that it was the improvement in loose exchanges that sparked off rejuvenation in Zimbabwe’s play in the second period.

The livewire back-three started seeing more of the ball, penetrating gaps and putting the Namibians on the back foot for the first time in the tie.

And there was a bit of swagger, particularly by the two speedsters, Chitokwindo and Makombe, both fresh from Zimbabwe’s Rugby World Cup Sevens campaign in the United States.
For Zimbabwe’s second try, Chitokwindo finished off a textbook backline move, showing a clean pair of heels to score in the middle.

A few forwards breaks by Zimbabwe breathed some life into the hosts’ performance, and one that comes to mind was a 60-metre dash by hooker David Makanda, but all were cleaned up in the end by Namibia.

Another breath-taking backline exchange resulted in Makombe’s try. Fullback Shingi Katsvere offloaded well in the tackle to a lurking Chitokwindo, who gathered his own clever chip before sending Makombe on his way. The France-based utility back finished off with a flourish by diving over between the posts.

Then Mandioma grabbed Zimbabwe’s bonus point try by crashing over from a congested scrum, but at that stage, the game was already in the bag for Namibia, who now appear headed for their sixth Rugby World Cup in a row, having been Africa’s torchbearer at the game’s biggest showpiece.

As for Zimbabwe, a must-win tie away to Uganda in a fortnight awaits them, otherwise they now face the grim prospects of demotion to the Silver Cup next season.

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