â€œIT is those players who make themselves available to us that we must concentrate on,â€ former Zimbabwe Rugby Union president Bruce Hobson often used to say when queried about the availability of players for national duty.
This statement comes more into perspective after several key players overlooked the inaugural Confederation of African Rugby (CAR) Trophy which begins in Gaborone, Botswana, on Sunday.
The Cape Town-based trio of captain Cleopas Makotose, Tangai Nemadire and Gerald Sibanda did not join camp. The only player from a recognised South African provincial union league in the 24-men squad which camped in Bulawayo is eighthman Norman Mukondiwa, who led the Sables away in Zambia last year.
Instead of passing judgment on them, one can only sympathise with the absent players as they stood to lose out on bonuses and other fees if they were to take days off.
Itâ€™s unfair that such devoted young players have had to make a very hard decision, but it is pressure that can be brought to bear on the International Rugby Board to encourage its affiliates to structure their competitions in a way that suits all members.
In team news, 11 players will be earning their first international caps for Zimbabwe in the tournament.
Of the eight forwards supplied by the Districts club, three will be making their first appearances. These are front rower Dimitri Zaverdinos, lock Kyle De Beer and Njabulo Ndlovu â€” an eighthman or lock still at Prince Edward School.
The other new forwards are Harare Sports Clubâ€™s impressive young lock Kundai Hatendi, and the pair of lock Theo Weale and giant eighthman Moses Makiwa of Bulawayo club Old Miltonians.
In the backs, five players will debut. Old Harariansâ€™ Tich Makwanya and Tapiwa Mafi are favoured to form the first-choice halfback pairing.Â Scrumhalf Mafi â€” who is also a Zimbabwe hockey player â€” is tipped to start ahead of veteran Gary Hewitt while flyhalf Makwanya, the former Zimbabwe Under 19 captain, only played five minutes for a Zimbabwe Goshawks side against Limpopo Plataland last year.
Coach Brendan Dawson is expected to prefer emerging OMs winger Jafet Ndebele on the left wing afterÂ he impressed on maiden tours with the Zimbabwe Sevens side to Zambia and Kenya.
The utility Gardner Nechironga, who has previously played lock, flanker and centre for Zimbabwe, should rove the other wing.
The other newcomers in the backs are the OMs duo of centre Lloyd Machanjaira and flyhalf Bernard Mukondiwa.Â Remarkably, the 25-year-old Bernard will replicate his teammate brother Normanâ€™s feat of becoming a Zimbabwe rugby international after having played first-class cricket for Matabeleland.
Despite the overall makeshift backline, Dawson will be delighted with his midfield. Sevens mainstay Daniel Hondo makes a welcome return in Sables colours at inside centre. He will play alongside the equally reliable Paul Staak, his former Under 21 teammate.
The relatively young squad is bolstered by just four players with considerable international XVs experience â€” scrumhalf Hewitt, props Rocky Gurumani and Alfred Sairai and eighthman Costa Dinha. 31-year-old Dinha is likely to be named captain.
In an unusual changed format for the six-nation event, teams will play those in the opposing group. Zimbabwe, who are in Pool B with Zambia and Reunion, will play Pool Aâ€™s Madagascar, Mauritius and hosts Botswana.
The tournamentâ€™s winner will be determined by an as yet unknown point system.
Forwards: Rocky Gurumani, Alfred Sairai, Piet Joubert, Devon Esbach, Dimitri Zaverdinos, Kyle De Beer, Theo Weale, Kundai Hatendi, Costa Dinha, Moses Makiwa, Prayer Chitenderu, Norman Mukondiwa, Jacques Leitao, Njabulo Ndlovu.
Backs: Gardner Nechironga, Tapiwa Mafi, Gary Hewitt, Tichafara Makwanya, Bernard Mukondiwa, Paul Staak, Daniel Hondo, Jafet Ndebele, Lloyd Machanjaira, Tafadzwa Mhende.
BY ENOCK MUCHINJO