THE common perception about Zimbabwean rugby is that the country’s best players have all gone abroad.
However, it is a safe assumption, on the contrary, to say there is still some degree of quality left in Zimbabwe.
superior conditioning and advanced training methods offered outside the country, some locally based players will not be easily brushed aside by their foreign-based counterparts if they were fighting for jerseys in the same team.
One of the better players still playing rugby in Zimbabwe is utility back Emmanuel Munyoro, the Zimbabwe fifteens and sevens international.
Munyoro’s deft skills and pace have always shown since, as a remarkably daring 21-year-old Test debutant wing for the country in 2001, he scored a full-blooded and famous winning try against stern rivals Namibia at Hartsfield Stadium in Bulawayo. For a young debutant, there is no better way to win a coach’s faith that beats giving him a winning start on his first match in charge. Munyoro testifies that his heroics certainly did the trick with Godwin Murambiwa.
For a small mining town, Zvishavane has produced top-class sportsmen — speedsters to be precise. Champion paralympics sprinter Elliot Mujaji is the most famous one from there. Perhaps then it is not by chance that at one time, Munyoro and another Zvishavane-bred quicksilver athlete, Augustine Mberi, were a prolific twin threat on either wings for the Sables.
“There has always have been rugby at Shabanie Mine,” Munyoro said. “Most of us started playing rugby at Shabanie primary and fell in love with the game.”
Realising his sporting talents, Munyoro’s parents wanted the trouble-prone young man to be nurtured in a more didactical environment, so they sent him away to boarding school at Gifford Boys High in Bulawayo for his Form One.
He was the only player from Gifford in 1994 to play Zimbabwe national schools rugby when he made the Under-16 side. On school holidays he would also play for the Shabanie senior team in the then National League, from
where he made the Midlands side for national trials.
When Bulawayo schools giants Christian Brothers College gave Munyoro a rugby scholarship for his A Levels in 1998, he knew he had to take full advantage of the offer. He was to become a rugby icon at CBC, and in 1999 he was voted the best backline player at the Inter-CBC competition at CBC’s sister school of the same name in Boksburg, South Africa.
After leaving school, Munyoro joined National League outfit Matabeleland Busters, who were also coached by his CBC coach Peter Staark.
“It was a big stepping stone to play with the big boys,” he said. “I played some of my best rugby with Busters and I managed to grow with the help of committed and experienced people around. We got to play against top South African sides like the Blue Bulls which was wonderful experience.”
In 2002, Munyoro spent a year with the Bulawayo intake of the Zimbabwe Rugby Union Academy, which folded after sponsors withdrew.
Although Munyoro has always played as a fullback from school and later Busters and now for his current club Old Hararians, three successive Sables coaches have found him more useful on the left wing mostly because of his blistering pace and nimble side-steps. The other reason is that when he first made the Sables, regular fullback Victor Olonga was still playing, and these days they use Cleopas Makotose as the fullback.
“I grew up playing fullback but I am now used to play both because of the national team, so I never complain,” he said.
“But I think as a fullback you have more impact on the game and have more attacking options because you get to see the game clearer, run into an open field and make better decisions. You have firmer command as fullback, while on the wing, you have to make a split decision to outpace your opponent or step in and look for support.”
So having established himself as a fifteens player, where does sevens come into the picture for Munyoro?
It began in 2000 when Munyoro was selected as a non-travelling reserve for the Sun City Sevens tournament in South Africa. But sevens rugby disappeared from the local calendar for a while, only to reemerge in 2003.
Munyoro was called to the Zambezi Cheetahs in 2004 and settled well into the team, although he missed the team’s inaugural European tour that year. He however went to Zambia and Kenya for the Mosi and Tusker Sevens.
The player has toured with the Cheetahs to Europe in 2005 and this year, rotating the wing, centre and playmaker positions.
Now 25, his sevens manager Bruce Hobson describes him as a “natural rugby player”.
Munyoro said: “Sevens has improved my skill level so that when I play fifteens I feel free to run with the ball and make crucial offensive decisions.
“We have played well on tour and showed marked improvement against the top sides. With more of this exposure we will continue to grow.”
Meanwhile, Hartpury College coach Liam Middleton and player Daniel Hondo arrive in the country from London today to join the Zimbabwe sevens side which leave today for the Mosi Sevens tournament in Lusaka this weekend.
Cheetahs skipper Jacques Leitao misses out on the trip due to injury. Harare Sports Club back Willis Magasa takes his place, while Western Panthers star forward Slater Ndlovu will captain the side.
Zimbabwe are also travelling with a second side, the Goshawks, who are led by player-coaches John Ewing and Basil Dingiswayo.
Zimbabwe sevens squad:
Cheetahs: S Ndlovu, G Mitchell, T Nemadire, D Hondo, E Munyoro, N Nortje, W Mbanje, A Mdewa, F Chipendo, W Magasa.
Goshawks: J Ewing, B Dingiswayo, R Ormerod, S Mangure, T Mhende, H Nyatanga, T Takavarasha, T Chidongo, B Brider, D Brider, C Elcombe, M Sita.