By Enock Muchinjo
WHEN former Harare Sports Club loose forward Cyprian Mandenge’s playing career was cut short by a shattering injury three years ago, he immediately took up coaching.
P>At 28, the university mentor is the youngest coach in the National Rugby League, with considerable qualifications and experience under his belt. Shrewd and demanding yet well respected in the rugby circles and liked by his players, Mandenge’s stubborn self-belief spills to his players with unmistakable influence.
This season, the University outfit played some of their best rugby since gaining promotion into the top flight three seasons ago, scooping a semi-final qualifying fourth position on the final log standings.
“During my first season in charge, last year, I wanted to work on the basics since most of the players were new. This season, my objective has been to get guys play my type of rugby, which is quick rugby, recycling the ball from the gain line to the other team’s tryline,” Mandenge said.
When University put up a stern challenge to Old Hararians in the national league final in August, Mandenge still thinks it would have been even better.
“Prior to the final we had been playing some good rugby. We did not do exactly the same in the final. We tended to play reactionary rugby and abandoned our game plan due to the big stage fright, since it was first time for most of our players to play in a final,” he said.
Despite the defeat by OH in the final, Mandenge’s tactical ability showed in the semi-final victory over fancied Mashonaland Country Districts (MCD) when the farmers were heavily tipped to roar into the final.
“We were not surprised that we won that game. I remember talking to the MCD coach, Boet O’Neill, before the match and both of us saying it was going to be a tough game,” Mandenge said.
Mandenge, who still wants to further his coaching qualifications, holds a sports management degree with a South African college, and an International Rugby Board Level 2 coaching certificate instructed by Briton Colin Osborne, the former Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) director of coaching and Sables coach.
More remarkable about University this season was that they had to train their players from scratch. Unlike established clubs like Old Hararians, Harare Sports Club and MCD, who get a constant supply of players from traditional rugby playing schools, most of University’s players are from the previously overlooked areas.
“I don’t believe in going out there and look for big stars. I believe in identifying talent and improving on it,” said Mandenge.
Coaching one of the newer and upcoming clubs, Mandenge feels national selectors are not casting their nets wider to pick deserving players from these teams.
“I feel the national teams are not being selected on merit. Selection is just centered on four top clubs and ignoring the minor teams,” he said.
“When coaches are appointed, they must be prepared to work and not wait until there is a match. They should conduct coaching clinics and work with the club coaches to spot talent.”
A rare product of Morgan High School, Mandenge is also a top junior coach, currently coaching at Eaglesvale High where he is in charge of the first team. Last year, he added another feather to his cap when he was assigned to train the Harare Province Under-21s and the national Under-21 northern region-based players.