ZIMBABWE must have a dominant pack to beat Madagascar in their Confederation of African Rugby Africa Cup opening match at Hartsfield in Bulawayo next Satu
Madagascar, who played in last season’s Africa Cup final against Morocco, play an open game, spreading the ball wide and attacking the open space.
Sables head coach Chris Lampard will have to counter with a strong pack, especially in the tight five, in order to unsettle the Indian Ocean islanders, and at the same time control the game and suck in the defence.
Zimbabwe are currently ranked number 48 on the IRB world rankings, two places lower than Madagascar, one of several African countries to go above Zimbabwe on rankings in the last 10 years.
“They play a running game,” said former Sables coach Brighton Chivandire, who was in charge of the team when they lost 13-9 in Antananarivo in 2004.
“They play a lot of sevens rugby in their country, and their players are generally smaller than those from other (African) countries. This suits them well to play a fast, attacking game.”
Zimbabwe still cannot afford to bring several of their better players scattered all over the world. Yet, selection will still play a big part against Madagascar.
Selection was a topical issue last year, as allegations against the coaches of bias or simply bad selection, took centre stage. Players from the southern region -— despite playing fewer and less organised league rugby than their northern region counterparts — were nevertheless preferred, and critically, in the forwards.
Lampard obviously learnt a great deal about African rugby in a bumpy first season in charge last year. The veteran trainer knows too well that for a country that has two possible good sides not available for them, the best players to hand will have to run onto the park at Hartsfield.
Meanwhile, there were worries over the fitness of skipper and flank Max Madziva, who did not train this week due to a swollen leg, which got worse after he starred in Old Hararians win over rivals Harare Sports Club at the weekend.
Madziva’s experience and stabilising influence will be greatly missed on the blindside of the back row if he does not make it. But Zimbabwe are well-covered in the loose forwards. Jacques Leitao and Slater Ndlovu, seen as the fittest and better-conditioned players in the team due to their international sevens involvement this season, will play key roles for the Sables as well.
Men such as the OH loosies Prayer Chitenderu and Basil Dingiswayo are also effective and proven impact players.
Most of the northern region players named in the provisional side went through their drills under assistant coach Sykes Sibanda at Old Georgians Sports Club this week. The players leave by bus for Bulawayo today to merge with the southerners for the squad camp.
Of the South African-based contingent, only those in Messina are confirmed to be joining camp in Bulawayo, said Sables manager, Rory MacWade.
While the pack will be the most critical department for the Sables, backline resources may also be a headache for Lampard. Tear-away wing Emmanuel Munyoro has gone AWOL amid reports that he has been suspended from the sevens side for indiscipline. Flyhalf Victor Zimbawo has also not confirmed his availability.