IT is not every time that a team lose all three group matches of a tournament and still get flattering remarks like the Zimbabwe Sevens team did at the Dubai Sevens last week.
Being placed in a group of death with defending IRB World Sevens Series champions New Zealand, Australia and Wales in pool A, performance not results was always going to be the focus for the World Cup-bound Cheetahs, and they emerged with their reputation intact.
Before the tournament, the Cheetahs lost captain Jacques Leitao to injury during a warm-up match against South Africa, the tournamentâ€™s eventual winners.
Centre Daniel Hondo took over the armband and will lead the team in the second leg of the grand-prix World Sevens Series in George, South Africa, starting today and ending tomorrow. Leitao, who flew back home at the weekend instead of connecting to South Africa with his teammates, will be out for almost six weeks.
The only disappointment for the Cheetahs in Dubai was they should have taken Australia on in the first match, losing 21-12 in a game which â€” with more self-belief â€” they could so easily have won.
They matched the Aussies for pace, defence and skill, but tended to submit in the 50-50 physical confrontations.
Hooker Leitaoâ€™s injury meant Zimbabwe went into the tournament without their first-choice forwards pack after prop Fortune Chipendo was also sidelined with an injury suffered at the World Cup qualifiers in Tunisia in October.
The pairâ€™s strength upfront was clearly missed, and though regular winger Alex Ndangana generally did well at hooker, he lacked the right size and stamina to compete with men twice as big.
The New Zealanders were always going to be a massive challenge in the second match, and they emerged 43-7 winners. As always they were very physical, skilful and pacey, but the Zimbabweans stood their ground. Wes Mbanje scored an excellent try.
Prop Gardner Nechironga tore a knee ligament and playmaker Willis Magasa dislocated a shoulder against the Kiwis, which meant they missed the Wales encounter, another big blow for Zimbabwe. Again, they did not make it easy for their opponents, losing 26-12.
Nechironga and Magasa returned on Day 2, in the victorious Bowls quarterfinal match against Scotland. The Cheetahs were far superior than the IRB core side, scoring three well-worked tries in a 19-5 victory.
They lost the bowl quarter final 12-17 to France. Meanwhile, Gordon Pangeti will earn his first Zimbabwe Sevens cap in George today. The Pumas winger, who will play in the forwards, was initially supposed to replace Ndangana in the Southern Cape town, but Leitaoâ€™s injury means Ndangana stays in the squad.
Zimbabwe are in Pool C with the Scots, Fiji and Argentina.
Cheetahs Squad for George: Daniel Hondo (capt), Grant Mitchell, Willis Magasa, Slater Ndlovu, Gardner Nechironga, Wes Mbanje, Alex Ndangana, Cleopas Makotose, Ryan Manyika, Tangai Nemadire, Gerald Sibanda, Gordon Pangeti.
By Enock Muchinjo