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The Rocky of Gibraltar

IT was an interview that leached serious passion for Zimbabwean rugby.

The interview, requested by a fuming Rocky Gurumani with this reporter and duly granted, was an angry outburst which came short of blaming everyone but himself.

The resultant story, run in these sports pages on 28 May, 2004, under the headline “Rocky’s swansong”, was an open threat by the star forward to quit the national side if Zimbabwe lost to Uganda in a crucial World Cup qualifier in Harare, having suffered another humbling defeat to Ivory Coast in their previous match.

Gurumani strongly denounced the tactics of coach Chris Lampard, the aptitude of his team-mates and the administrative flaws of the Zimbabwe Rugby Union.

History records that the Sables went on to beat Uganda, but again failed to qualify for the biggest showpiece in rugby union since their last appearance at the 1992 tournament.

Six years down the line, and almost 37, Rocky is still around, at least for the time being.
“I was asked to come back and play, and I answered the call,” said Gurumani this week.

At the beginning of the season, ex-Zimbabwe captain and current coach Brendan Dawson asked Gurumani, his former team-mate in the national side, to lead the team as skipper.

The season got off to a poor start, with losses away to Kenya and Uganda in the inaugural Victoria Cup tri-nation series.

“It was very disappointing,” he says. “We made silly mistakes, and the silly mistakes cost us. Our game was riddled with costly indecision. When we were supposed to pass, we kicked for points. When we were supposed to kick, we passed. It was that mistake or the other; that last, crucial pass going wide. At this level, if you do that, you get punished.”

Gurumani takes solace in that the Sables have awoken from their early slumber, making it into the final round of the Africa Cup competition following their victory in the southern regional qualifier tournament in Bulawayo two weeks ago.

“We beat one of our biggest rivals, Madagascar, and we now have a good chance of becoming African champions,” he says.

The team’s  faults aside, Gurumani also blames biased officiating for the two defeats in East Africa.
“At least on Saturday we will have a top-class referee, who I believe is going to be Marius Jonker from South Africa. Just like in the Bulawayo tournament when we had (South African) Jonathan Kaplan, who is the most experienced rugby referee in the world. Madagascar got dirty, but Kaplan was in total control. Our other African referees are not up to scratch. They can’t handle the pressure of big games, when so much is at stake.”

As a rugby nation, Zimbabwe is still far ahead of most countries on the continent, insists Gurumani.
“We have had our problems, but we are still better than them,” he says. “Of the three teams in the tri-nations, it was us who were traveling the longest distance. It was tough to acclimatise. We are now getting used to traveling abnormal hours and still focus on the task at hand. It’s quite demanding. We haven’t had so many games in a roll before. Some players were still adjusting.

“I know that we are still a better rugby nation. We have a good junior policy, which shows by our position in the world. At junior level, Kenya and Uganda cannot even compete with us. What is the problem at national level? We need to play consistently. It’s different now because guys play seven to eight tests per year, compared to just two to three previously.”

Gurumani also pays tribute to officials and players in the domestic competitions.

“They are dedicated,” he says. “To keep the game afloat in the hard times as they did is unbelievable. In Africa, after South Africa, we have the best-organised structures and the best players. Credit to the guys, they kept it together when our country was ailing. They have done a brilliant job.”

Tomorrow at Harare Sports Club, the hosts will turn to their group of local-based Sables for redemption. The talent at disposal delights Gurumani.

“I think, of the new guys, there is Lloyd (Machanjaira) from Bulawayo and that young boy, the prop, Brian (Makamure). I have also seen Njabulo (Ndlovu) and he is a wonderful talent. (Charles) Jiji is very good, but in his position of scrumhalf, he has to fight it out with guys like (Tapiwa) Mafi, Scotty (Jones) and Banja (Tich Chidongo).”

A legend at the Old Hararians club, Gurumani is currently based in South Africa where he plays on part-time basis in the Mpumalanga league.

“I got a call from the Valke coach. I might be going there, but I will soon be turning 37. I would want to play professional rugby, but I want to spend more time with my family. But time will tell,” says the father of two.

 

Enock Muchinjo

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