THE composition of the Zimbabwe Under 19 rugby team for the World Junior Championships qualifiers in Tunisia next week is further indication of the ever-growing strength of local junior rugby at a time the senior game has been left searching for answers after a shattering loss in Namibia a fortnight ago.
National Under 19 coach Brighton Chivandire was modest about the make-up of the team, but then generally agreed that he could not have asked for a better pool of young players to work with.
With a flyhalf who is already the senior national team first choice number 10, a captain playing for a good club in the UK, a talisman winger already a feared player on the domestic club scene, the Zimbabweans are among the favourites to win the tournament, whose winner will scoop the sole qualifying slot for next yearâ€™s World Junior Championships in Argentina.
The captain of the side, flanker Michael Todd, plays at English club Beckenham in the Kent second division.
Then there is the talented playmaker Danny Robertson, who remarkably has two Test caps for the Sables already, and the diminutive but forceful winger Rangarirai Zembe, a revelation at local league giants Old Hararians this season.
All in all, six players in the squad are foreign-based.
The other England-based player in the 24-men squad is Toddâ€™s fellow loose forward, Graham Lawler, who is based at Hartpury College.
The Gloucester Institute has been popular with Zimbabweans for four years, having been home to Zimbabwe senior internationals Daniel Hondo and Roland Benade, then former Zimbabwe Under 19s skipper Andrew Rose, and ex-Zimbabwe Schools star David Crouch.
Tall forward Kyle Jarvis, an opening pace bowler for Zimbabwe at the Under 19 Cricket World Cup in Malaysia early this year, leads the South Africa-based contingent of four. He is studying at the University of Pretoria.
The Zimbabwe team leaves for the Tunisian capital Tunis on Monday. They are in Pool B with Ivory Coast, Kenya and Tunisia. They play their first match against the Ivory Coast on Thursday.
Said skipper Todd of his teamâ€™s chances: “Our aim is to go there, win the tournament and qualify for the World Cup. Weâ€™ve got guys from overseas who will bring a different dimension to the team. Most guys have played together before so we have good experience. Hopefully next year we will end up in Argentina.”
Zimbabwe Under 19 squad
Forwards: Michael Todd (captain, Blackenham Rugby Club, UK), Simbarashe Musarurwa (Falcon College), Trevor Ingram (Districts Dragons), Brian Makamure (St Andrews College, SA), Ronnie Chihota (Valke Club, SA), Antonio Machado (Districts Dragons), Graham Lawler (Hartpury College, UK), Njabulo Ndlovu (Prince Edward School), Brendon Chapman (Peterhouse College), James Holmes (Districts Dragons), Julian Nicholas (Matabeleland Barbarians), Brian Mutangadura (Eaglesvale High), Kyle Jarvis (University of Pretoria Turks)
Backs: Jason Graham (Midlands Rugby Academy, SA), Danny Robertson (Districts Dragons), Rangarirai Zembe (Old Hararians), Johannes Rushwaya (Old Hararians), Melusi Mlalazi (St Johns College), Tafadzwa Seremani (Prince Edward School), Raymond De Jong (Districts Dragons), Graham Kaulback (St Johns College), Tinashe Jaure (Harare Sports Club), Thabani Ngwenya (Peterhouse College), Osmond Mhere (Peterhouse College)
By Enock Muchinjo