THE Zimbabwe rugby team returns to the drawing board after last weekâ€™s 35-21 defeat in Namibia which ended the Sablesâ€™ dream of qualifying for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
The Sables exit after playing just one match raises more questions over the International Rugby Boardâ€™s (IRB) drive to substantiate the game as a truly global sport.
The Africa Cup tournament is being used for the first time as a qualifying event for the World Cup. The winner of the four pools of three teams progress to the semi-finals, with the tournament winner joining South Africa as the other continental representative in South Africa.
After two wins over Senegal and Zimbabwe, Namibia have an unassailable lead in Pool A. They go through with Cote dâ€™Ivoire, Tunisia and Uganda.
There is still a chance though for the Sables. If they win the Africa Cup in 2010, they will enter a play-off with other continental champions from Europe, Asia and the Americas. IRB has always had that slot, but no African country has qualified that way before.
However it may still not materialise because the IRB is mooting cutting down the number of teams taking part in the World Cup from 20 to 16.
The proposal has drawn criticism from rugby analysts even in established rugby nations.
Wrote British writer, Stephen Jones, in the December 2007 issue of the Rugby World magazine: “But whoever suggested it is in the shadows. Similarly unseen are those propounding it. This is all odd. Why, during the World Cup, as the brilliant Argentina, Fiji, Georgia and Tonga were threatening to change the old world order, and as Tier Two and Tier Three nations showed vastly improved from, did the IRB or anyone else not announce that the whole thing had been a ghastly theory which would now be dynamited for all time â€” or at least until the IRB announce that the number of competing nations will indeed be revised, upwards from 20 to 24.”
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe will draw solace if they qualify for the 2009 Sevens World Cup in Dubai. They play in the African qualifying tournament in Tunisia in October. Three countries will join automatic qualifiers South Africa.
By Enock Muchinjo