BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Anew era for Zimbabwe rugby is set to kick off today with the Zimbabwe Rugby Academy playing their first game in the expanded SuperSport Rugby Challenge against Border Bulldogs at Buffalo City Stadium in East London, South Africa.
The Brendan Dawson-coached Zimbabweans, playing in the competition for the first time and featuring in the South Section, will use False Bay Rugby Club in Cape Town as their base for the duration of the tournament.
They, however, open their campaign on the road today against a Border Bulldogs side, who were included in the competition even though their union was put into administration because of financial problems in October.
Their financial problems aside, Border Bulldogs, who are known for ignoring the set phases and running their opponents ragged, are sure to provide tough opposition for the young Zimbabwe Academy side.
Captained by former youth international Brendon Mandivenga, the Zimbabwe Rugby Academy side is made up of a mixture of national sevens, Zimbabwe Sables, former national youth players and about 12 Cape Town-based players.
Mandivenga, the versatile backliner, who was used mostly as a centre by South African coach Peter de Villiers in his debut season with the Sables last year, takes over the number 10 jersey in what should be a new halfback pairing with talented scrumhalf Kuziwa Kazembe.
Another mesmerising presence in the Zimbabwe Academy line-up is that of rising star Shingirai Katsvere, who will start at outside centre after a dream maiden season for the Sables last year at fullback.
The trademark sudden burst of speed, fine handling skills and precise side-steps make Katsvere Zimbabwe’s secret weapon tomorrow in a new-look midfield pairing with first centre Riaan O’Neill.
Zimbabwe Sevens star Kudakwashe Chiwanza will play at fullback in a new-look back three, which also features Matthew McNab and Takudzwa Kumadiro at left and right wing respectively.
Upfront, Old Georgians loosehead prop Wade Petzer leads the front row, which includes Portugal-based hooker Royal Mwale and promising tighthead Cleopas Kundiona Jr.
The towering young South Africa-based lock Kudakwashe Nyakufaringwa is paired with seasoned campaigner Jan Ferreira in the second row.
Former Zimbabwe youth international Aiden Burnett, who was part of the Hartpury University RFC side which won the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Super Rugby Championship title early this month, is part of a loose trio of exciting prospects at number eight.
He will combine with Portugal-based Brian Nyaude, who starts at blind-side flank, and England-based Jordan Coombes, who makes his first appearance for Zimbabwe at openside flank.