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Zimbabwe’s best sevens rugby side?

Enock Muchinjo

THE present Zimbabwe Sevens rugby side is the best the country has produced in years, according to the Cheetahs’ coach, Liam Middleton.

vetica, sans-serif”>The old guard of Zimbabwean rugby would no doubt want to oppose that opinion as they think back wistfully to the days of the likes of Victor Olonga, Bedford Chimbima and Andy Ferreira, who left a mark with the Cheetahs at the 1992 sevens World Cup in Sicily.

But after seeing the robustness and cohesion diplayed by the players as they went through their drills at St Georges College this week, Middleton’s assumption would hold water.

Added to those rare specialised training methods in local rugby is the Cheetahs’ impressive tours to Europe and to the African continental sevens tournaments this year, which they can improve on if they play to their full potential.

The Cheetahs leave for George, South Africa, on Sunday to take part in the second leg of the IRB World Sevens Series.

“Preparations have been very good,” said Middleton. “We trained all weekend. We are training in a tournament environment so that the players get used to the tournament conditions.

“The players have improved hugely. As a country, we have had good sevens sides in the past, but I think this side is getting closer to that. I think it is the best we have had in years. Our training is a lot better than it was those days. The key is to get the players much bigger and much stronger, and that requires loads of hard work.”

The Cheetahs have been bolstered by the presence of United Kingdom-based centre Daniel Hondo, who displayed his class and flair in training this week. Hondo, young brother to Zimbabwe Test cricketer Douglas, plays under Middleton at Hartpury College in London.

Middleton remarked of the 22-year-old Hondo: “He has improved. He has become stronger, and his skills are better. He trains five days a week in the UK and plays twice. He has become much more confident, and much stronger.”

Zimbabwe rugby can really do well if more players can get the same training and exposure like Hondo is getting in the UK. Another Zimbabwean player, David Crough, also plays at Hartpury, while Cheetahs playmaker Willis Magasa has been offered a scholarship there next year.

Zimbabwe face hosts, South Africa, France and Tunisia on the first day of the Sevens Series.

“We have played Tunisia twice. They have beaten us once and we have beaten them once,” Middleton said. “We are quite confident about that match. South Africa and France will be good sides, but if we use our tactics right, we will be able to beat them.”

Middleton added that his side will improve in the future when the country starts attracting more foreign-based players.

“We run a good set-up here. Bruce Hobson (national sevens manager) has been very good to us. I don’t think we can operate without him.

“We have to keep on playing on the international sevens circuit so that more players would want to come back. As we increase our profile, instead of us going to the players, they will come to us to play.”

Middleton takes over as coach for the tournament from John Ewing, who reverts back to the captaincy role.

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