WHEN they arrive in Tunisia later this month for the IRB Sevens World Cup Africa Zone qualifiers, the Zimbabwe Sevens rugby team will have two tasks: qualification for the World Cup itself and inclusion in the Dubai Sevens in November.
In a draw release this week, the International Rugby Board has decided to leave open the third slot available to African teams taking part in the first leg of the World Sevens Series in Dubai.
The Dubai tournament kick-starts seven months of intense international sevens action, including the eight events on the grand-prix style Series and the Sevens World Cup, scheduled to be held in Dubai on 5-7 March 2009.
Two of the three African places for the Dubai Sevens have been taken by IRB core teams; South Africa and Kenya.
The best performing team in the World Cup qualifiers in Tunis will then be incorporated into the Dubai Sevens to join South Africa and Kenya, who were both placed in Pool B.
The third team, to emerge from the Tunisia tournament, has in the meantime been seeded as “Africa 2” in Pool A with defending champions New Zealand, Australia and Wales. Hosts Tunisia will be Zimbabweâ€™s main challengers to take the place.
South Africa are automatic qualifiers for the World Cup, but the Kenyans will have to qualify. This then means that if Kenya wins, the qualifiers in Tunisia, the Dubai place will go to the second-best placed team. Three teams will qualify for the World Cup.
Meanwhile, Liam Middleton, the Zimbabwe coach, has said he will take to Tunisia his strongest side in four years.
“When we assemble at the camp in Harare on October 19 we will bring together possibly the strongest group of players Iâ€™ve coached in the past four years,” wrote the UK-based trainer on the Zimbabwe Rugby Union website.
“We will have 16 players in the camp, joined by two new comers to the training squad, Garth Ziegler and Ryan Manyika. We will pick 12 players from the 16 and it will be a very difficult decision to leave four quality players behind, but this is a privilege that Bruce (Hobson; manager) and I have been working towards for years.”
Centre Cleopas Makotose said the team has ability to qualify for both events.
“Itâ€™s going to be tough and weâ€™ve got to work extra hard to succeed,” he said.
“Itâ€™s either of the two; we work hard and succeed or donâ€™t do anything and fail. But there is no reason for us to fail.”
Meanwhile Zimbabwe, playing under the Goshawks title, won the Potchefstroom Sevens tournament in South Africa last weekend, beating Falcons in the final. Tomorrow the local Summer Sevens Series continue at Old Georgians Sports Club in Harare.
The Goshawks will then return to South Africa next weekend for the Blue Bulls Sevens in Pretoria, their final warm-up tournament before the World Cup qualifiers.
By Enock Muchinjo