LAST year Zimbabwe’s sevens rugby team hardly broke a sweat as they clinched the inaugural edition of the Spar Zimbabwe International Sevens tournament, but they cannot expect another stroll in the park this time after the addition of top teams to the tournament.
With the exception of South Africa’s Sevens Academy side, and the South African Buffaloes team, no other team managed to test the Cheetahs’ resolve as much as they would have wanted.
This time, World Cup-bound sides Hong Kong and Georgia have added the international flavour that was lacking last year, setting the stage for some bruising battles this weekend.
While Kenya’s Shujaa team and the South African Sevens Elite Player Development might be seen as second-stringsides, in reality they are very strong sides, equally capable of going all the way in this tournament.
The South African Sevens EPD team’s confidence will also be high as they will be eager to impress respected South Africa Sevens coach Paul Treu who will accompany the team for the tour.
The South African side, which is laced with some South African Sevens senior players, proved their quality by lifting the Kenya Safari Sevens in September last year. Kyle Brown, who is one of the most exciting players on the IRB World Sevens Series boosts the side with his presence.
For the Cheetahs, this is the type of competition needed ahead of the IRB World Sevens Series set for Hong Kong later this month and June’s Sevens Rugby World Cup in Russia.
The Cheetahs, who have been training together since January, will be under pressure to replicate their perfomance last year as they test themselves ahead of the global showpiece.
The Gilbert Nyamutsamba-coached side will be favourites to progress from Pool A where they will battle against Georgia and neighbours Zambia today for a place in the latter stages of the tournament.
Nyamutsamba’s side is dominated by locally-based players in the absence of foreign based players like Wensley Mbanje, Manasah Sita, Justin Coles and Gerald Sibanda. The absence of the experienced quartet is set to open some opportunities for other upcoming players like Harare Sports Club wing Stephen Hunduza and former Young Sables star Tapiwa Tsomondo.
Hunduza made his national debut at XVs level for the Sables during the Emirates Airline Cup of Nations where he starred with his pace, endurance, nippy footwork and ability to get crucial tries.
Tsomondo who recently joined renowned Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU) Super League side Hamilton Rugby Club was one of the standout performers for the Young Sables last year.
The former Prince Edward schoolboy is already being tipped as one of the stars of the future and will be hoping to use the Spar Zimbabwe International Sevens as a stepping stone to greater heights.
Gweru Sports Club speedster Kilvan Magunje was one of the standout performers at last year’s tournament and will be hoping for a repeat perfomance this year.
The Cheetahs will also be boosted by the presence of several battle hardened seasoned campaigners such as skipper Jacques Leitao, Tangai Nemadire and Gardner Nechironga. While the main focus of the local fans will be on how the Cheetahs will perform, local selectors will also have another eye on the other local representative sides like the Goshawks and the Zambezi Warriors.
The two sides comprise players who are vying for selection into the Cheetahs side and the Spar Zimbabwe International Sevens will offer them an opportunity to showcase what they have to offer.
Spar Zimbabwe International Sevens Draw
Pool A: Zimbabwe Cheetahs, Georgia, Zambia
Pool B: Hong Kong, Kenya, Zambezi Warriors
Pool C: Blue Bulls, Leopards, South African Sevens Elite Player Development Team
Pool D: Goshawks, Pumas, SA Buffaloes.
Cheetahs: Fortunate Chipendu, Jacques Leitao (captain), Japhet Ndebele, Lucky Sithole, Kelvin Magunje, Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, Stephan Hunduza, Gardner Nechironga, Tangai Nemadire, Tapiwa Tsomondo, Njabulo Ndlovu Daniel Hondo.
Coach: Gilbert Nyamutsamba
Manager: Bruce Hobson
Goshawks: Tonderai Chigumbura, Farai Jijita, Dan Nichols, Boyd Rous, Teddy Hwata, Carter Makwasha, Kuda Chiwanza, David Cloete, Lloyd Machanjaire, Shayne Makombe, Lance Chikodzi, Craig Elcombe.
Coach: John Ewing
Manager: Basil Dingiswayo
Zambezi Warriors: Percy, Kwenda, Eddy Manyere, Ruben Kruger, Ian Armstrong, Nelson Madida, Courtney Watsai, Tino Gurure, Walter Gonde, Dando Ndlovu, Denver Chigege, Charles Gwanzura, Tawanda Chowe, Richard Chigumba, Tatas Matataguta, Gazza Crabbe.
Coach: Reuben Kumpasa
Manager: Tafadzwa Mhende