THE Zimbabwe national rugby team is slowly regaining its continental powerhouse status, manager Losson Mtongwiza says following the Sablesâ€™ victory in the inaugural CAR Southern Trophy in Botswana last seek.
The Sablesâ€™ success saw them jump nine places up on the International Rugby Board rankings.
Reports the IRB website this week: â€œSouth Africa may have assumed top spot (after the Springboksâ€™ Tri-Nation win over New Zealand on Saturday), but it is another African side in Zimbabwe who are the biggest movers of the last seven days with a nine-place jump to 46th after their victory in the CAR Southern Trophy in Botswana.
â€œZimbabweâ€™s opening day 31-22 victory over Madagascar â€” the highest ranked side going into the competition at 46th â€” and the 23-3 defeat of hosts Botswana on Saturday has combined to give them their best ranking in nearly four years.â€
Having overcome Madagascar and Mauritius in a round-robin format going into the last day at the University of Botswana, the Sables played a Botswana side which was also unbeaten and eager to cause a major upset in a match which in essence was the final.
But backed by a vociferous crowd of Zimbabweans based in Gaborone, the Sables romped home 23-3 in a performance that demonstrated the gulf between them and the emerging nations.
While the win against BotswanaÂ was crucial in securing the trophy, Mtongwiza says it was the Madagascar result that gave him hope because of their superior ranking. Prior, the Sables had failed to beat the Indian Ocean islanders in two tests, drawing in Bulawayo in 2006 and then losing in Harare a year later.
And when the very mobile islanders led at halftime in Gaborone, courtesy of two tries, the jinx looked set to continue. But Brendan Dawsonâ€™s men really turned it on in the second half, running in four tries in a commanding forwards play that totally outshone the Malagasy.
â€œ(In the first half) we couldnâ€™t contain them in terms of pace,â€ Mtongwiza says.
â€œIn the second half Dawson changed everything. We played a forwards game. We used our big forwards to bash up, hold it and maul the ball.â€
One player who came into his own was Dimitri Zaverdinos, the young Districts hooker who came off the bench on his Zimbabwe debut to score two of the four tries.
â€œIn fact, all tries came from forwards. Dimitri scored two, Norman (Mukondiwa) the other and Jacques (Leitao) the other. No ball was going to the backs. If it went to the backline they all took it forward. The fact that the players can adopt to change of plan showed that they understand the game and what the coach wants.â€
Mtongwiza was full of praise for the mature performance of the team, the inspirational captaincy of Costa Dinha and the expertise of coach Dawson.
Â â€œI feel the Sables have come of age,â€ he says.
â€œFor any sport to do well you need to have depth. Before we went to Namibia (for a World Cup qualifier) last year we didnâ€™t have depth. We took a very strong squad, but unfortunately we lost. Look at the squad we took to Bots. Itâ€™s not the best team Zim can assemble. But what it proves is that weâ€™ve got a base. Imagine if we had brought everyone.â€
He says of Dawson:Â â€œDawson is doing a very good job, his record speaks of itself. He has won six out of nine matches.â€
But for the Sables to keep improving their rankings, they need to play top-ranked sides more often.
â€œWe are in a Catch-22 situation,â€ says former Zimbabwe Rugby Union president Bruce Hobson. â€œWe need to play, but we donâ€™t get to play often because weâ€™ve got no money. If we go to Kenya, or get Kenya down here and beat them, we get points. We donâ€™t get points from beating the likes of Botswana.â€
But Mtongwiza says things are looking up: â€œThe way forward is we need to play more games. A lot of countries are now interested in playing us. We need to organise more games. CAR have come up with a system which will help our rankings, where the winners of the south play the winner from the north.
â€œAlso, there is talk of a tri-nation between Zim, Zambia and Botswana. Obviously this will not help us in the same way it will help the other teams. But it will help us to develop an Under 23 side which is a feeder to the Sables.â€
BY ENOCK MUCHINJO