Sibanda Zim Rugby’s Man of the Moment

WHEN Zimbabwe’s Sevens rugby team beat Ireland to win the Bowl Trophy at the Sevens World Cup in Dubai, star centre Daniel Hondo told reporters that he hoped the achievement would earn him separate recognition from his more famous brother, former Zimbabwe Test cricketer Douglas Hondo.

Hondo is not alone in fighting for family bragging rights. Prolific winger Gerald Sibanda — Zimbabwe’s most outstanding player in the World Cup — also has a family battle of his own with little sister Vanessa Sibanda, the stunningly beautiful Miss Tourism Zimbabwe.

“We were always ambitious when we were growing up,” Gerald says. “I thank God for giving us the opportunity to showcase our abilities in life at a bigger stage and just hope we keep on aspiring for more.
“Surely I have the family bragging rights unless she has forgotten the last time she cried when I smacked her. Hope the police don’t read this one!” he quips.

Sibanda went into the World Cup with his profile rising as rapid as his deceptive runs down the wing — and didn’t disappoint. His five tries, tied with six other players, meant they ended second behind England talisman Tom Varndell and Scotland’s Andrew Turnbull on the tournament’s top scorers chat.

“Man, the World Cup was awesome! We prepared well for it. You know it’s all about fitness at the top level and surely to strive to be the best you have to train like the best.

“Team-wise, I think we had a slow start to the tournament but considering the fact that our group rivals who beat us, Argentina and Wales, later played in the main Cup final, I guess we were not so bad.”
True to form, Sibanda was a thorn in the Irish flesh in the Bowl final, defending manfully and scoring a wonder try.

“Ooh! scoring tries sometimes has to go with instinct,” he says. “I’m working hard on my killer instinct. The Irish winger had defended me so well in my first two runs so I told myself, ‘hell no you won’t get this one’, and I did what he didn’t expect: grubber and dive — the easiest way to score I guess.”

He credits coach Liam Middleton for the team’s success in the World Cup and the period leading up to it.
“We have an awesome coach in Liam,” he says. “He relates to everyone professionally and so well. He spends hours working out formulas of how one day we can be amongst the best in Sevens rugby. All credit must go to him for putting in place such a massive team and with him around, no doubt we will be at the top soon. If Kenya can why can’t we? It’s a matter of time.”

The first-born of retired Air Force Wing Commander Mawhebo Sibanda’s three children, Gerald was born 23 years ago in Gutu.

Vanessa is the second and Prince Edward schoolboy Zeyn the last. The family was always on the move when the children were growing up — staying in Gweru, Chegutu and Harare.

Gerald was educated at F.A.F.B Primary in Chegutu and Nettleton Junior School in Harare. He started off senior school at Milton High in Bulawayo before transferring to Churchill High in Harare.

He plays alongside three former school teammates in the Cheetahs side: Wes Mbanje (Milton) and Willis Magasa and Tangai Nemadire (Churchill).

It was at Milton where he received his rugby apprenticeship as a rather resistant recruit from soccer.
“The sports master that time was Mr Khumalo who used to punish me for attending soccer practice. I was a Beckham in the making I tell you!

“So I guess it started with playing hide and seek with the sports master then later I fell in love with this game. And the relationship is unbreakable I guess.”

At Churchill his rugby blossomed, being part of a Bulldogs first XVs that beat the seemingly invincible Falcon and Peterhouse in 2004.

The height then for Sibanda was representing Zimbabwe at the IRB Under 19 World Cup in Durban in 2005.

“Under 19 World Cup, wow! That was special”, he says. “We can’t stop talking about the experience with one of my close mates “Too Bad” (Nemadire). That was our foundation to aspire for greater things in this game. For me to be vice-captain was an honour.”

He proceeded to Harare Sports Club, a springboard for ex-Churchill boys. His first real breakthrough was the move to South Africa in 2007, joining Lions first league club Raiders.

There he played alongside Springboks such as scrumhalf Ricky Januarie, former winger Wylie Human and trialist utility back Earl Rose.

“Tondie Chavhanga was my inspiration at school but for a while it has been Bryan Habana,” he says of his role models. “I also have high respect for (former captain) Jason Robinson of England.”

In 2008 Sibanda switched to Currie Cup province Falcons, but failed to get game time due to contractual hitches. He packed his bags and headed back to Johannesburg to rejoin Raiders. He however values the time spent with Falcons.

“Development-wise I did benefit a lot considering they played in the premier Currie Cup section,” he says. “Being part of the squad and part of match preparations and watching them play top provinces like Lions, Sharks, Blue Bulls, Free State and Western Provinces week after week made me mature as a player and winger.”

Sibanda started his international career for the Sables in 2007 and has six test caps. At the time he was considered a utility back, playing wing and centre.

“I am a winger now and I guess I’m maturing at the top level and if I am to make it at the top then it’s gotta be number 11 and 14, though 14 is my best,” he says. “I was a good centre in my school and local club years and that’s where I made my name, but I guess I had something else in mind and I am enjoying it.

“Wings need to be fast, skilled and must have a sniff for the try line and I guess all that is part of me now. There have to be weaknesses but that is why I go for training. Learning doesn’t stop in sport, even Cristiano Ronaldo ain’t perfect but he is the best.

Having first tasted international rugby at XVs, it wasn’t difficult for Gerald to settle into the Cheetahs set-up because of his pace, outstanding body balance and precision.

“Sevens rugby is where natural talent is exposed and developed for big time rugby in XVs,” he says. “That’s my view. Most top professional players have come through the game — you talk of All Blacks players like Mils Muliaina, Jonah Lomu, Joe Rokocoko, Rodney So’oialo, then David Campese of Australia and Breyton Paulse and Tonderai Chavhanga for South Africa.”

While he is thoroughly enjoying the Cheetahs roadshow, currently touring Hong Kong for the fifth leg of the IRB World Sevens Series starting there today, he also pledges loyalty to the Sables, saying: “I have six caps and hope to have more, God willing. I will always be available for my country, with great pride.”
Just like the war cry song goes: “I am a Sable, forever more…!”

BY ENOCK MUCHINJO

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