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Off-field rucks and mauls harm rugby

With Enock Muchinjo

LAST month the Zimbabwe national rugby team got a new coach in Chris Lambard, an experienced and dedicated rugby personality with vast experience of serving the game in different roles ov

er the years.

The appointment of the new coach comes ahead of a crucial year in which the Sables will be attempting to return to the World Cup after last appearing at the global showcase in 1987. The appointment of an experienced trainer for the national side was perhaps a good launch pad for another quest to revive local rugby after several failed bids.

Rugby, which has sunk to its lowest ebb since the game was introduced in Zimbabwe in the colonial era, can now move forward, it is hoped, with the guidance of proven coaches and a crop of tested administrators now at the helm of local rugby.

But as one would come to expect of Zimbabwean rugby, the elevation of the former assistant to head coach has already raised a few eyebrows and resentment from some quarters. Some of the criticism is astonishing in its regionalist and racist nature.

Listening to some of the disapproval of Lambard’s appointment, I get the impression that some people only argue for the sake of argument and have nothing to offer rugby. One does not have to search far than the rival camps in the rugby structures in the country to find where the inspiration behind the divisions rocking the game come from.

An analysis of the situation in local rugby over the past couple of years, and the subsequent appointment of Lambard to the hot seat, reveal a background of division, rivalry and internal forces which the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) has been submitting to for a long time.

These divisions and infighting will continue to undermine the union’s authority if Bryn Williams and his executive do not put an end to all the self-indulgence that is seriously suppressing genuine efforts by a few good people still remaining in local rugby.

When these very few well-meaning people finally join the rugby exodus out of frustration, rugby will be left with hit-or-miss people who use the game as platform to settle personal vendettas.

Lambard’s coaching ability is not our main concern at this moment in time.

Our biggest worry is the conditions the new coach will work under, taking into consideration the bumpy road the previous three coaches before Lambard walked. Alex Nichols was forced to quit before he even took over as Godwin Murambiwa’s successor, following a players’ revolt that should never have been allowed to prevail. One hopes that the dissenting voices that have arisen over Lambard will be quashed sooner rather than later.

ZRU cannot afford to be pinned into another forced decision. The game has had enough of this chaotic change of coaches due to powerful forces. It is clear that Lambard’s promotion from his assistant role under his former young boss Brighton Chivandire was a direct result of pressure from some of these sections of the rugby fraternity. The Matabeleland Rugby Board had refused to recognise Chivandire as national coach from the outset.

Now the opposite camp feels that it’s payback time. It’s time to impose their own folk as the Sables coach. The wrangle can go and on until what’s left of Zimbabwe rugby is just memories — and no one cares how piercing the memories will be.

Chivandire might not have been the best coach the Sables could have, but acting like a reactionary organism as the ZRU has been doing does not invest public and corporate confidence.

That is why soccer suffered for a prolonged time without any serious sponsor willing to be associated with a game whose leaders do not respect each other’s professional judgement, and are consistently fighting each other.

And as people in rugby choose not to agree on a matter as important as the appointment of the national coach, and structures are divided between north and south, no one would want to be associated with such derangement.

The national league, which is only a few weeks away, has no sponsor to date, while sponsors are falling over each other to come into soccer. Like soccer, rugby has considerable commercial and spectator appeal and cannot continue to make bungled decisions.

Can the often arrogant rugby players give Lambard the respect that he merits? If the existing environment is not improved, Lambard can expect obstacles in executing his duties. But with a lot more robustness on the part of the administrators, none of the mischief will sail through.

It is time that the rugby bosses sent a clear message that they can make firm decisions and administer without fear or favour.

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