WITH a place in next year’s final round of the England 2015 Rugby World Cup qualifiers firmly in the pocket, Zimbabwe’s Sables will test themselves against a strong Kenya side in the Africa Cup final in Madagascar on Sunday, hoping to return home with their pride intact and some silverware.
Report by Kevin Mapasure
Before the Madagascar encounter, maintaining their place in the Africa Cup Group 1A topped their agenda and the Sables accomplished it in fine style by dispatching the home side 38-18 despite a vociferous 35 000 crowd in Antananarivo on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, the national Under-18 side, Young Sables, displayed a tantalising glimpse into the Sables’ future with a polished 43-5 win over Limpopo Blue Bulls at the Craven week in Polokwane, South Africa.
Although both victories were sweet, the Sables’ win was sweeter with the prospect of qualifying for their first World Cup since 1991 looking brighter.
Sables assistant coach, Cyprian Mandenge, who did not travel with the team, yesterday said with the dream of a World Cup appearance looking so bright, it is time for people to put aside differences and work as a collective force to ensure the team qualifies for the global showcase in England in 2015.
“I think we are so near and we have probably the best chance in a long time, so we should bury the hatchet and work together to realise this dream,” said Mandenge.
“We cannot keep on knocking on the door and fail to get in. We need all stakeholders to come together and plan for next year’s qualifiers.”
The Sables were rocked by a player revolt which saw 13 players axed ahead of the trip to Madagascar last week, but Mandenge said it was time to ceasefire and bring everybody on board.
A petition signed by the players demanded the removal of team manager Lawson Mutongwiza, but there were also murmurs of discontent over new players coming from outside the country to challenge for places in the team now that prospects of World Cup qualification look bright.
Golden Lions of South Africa fly-half Guy Cronje, Andrew Ross and Cambridge Rugby lock Martin Wolfenden were all included in the squad for the Africa Cup, but only Wolfenden travelled with the squad.
Ross Cronje, Guy’s twin brother, has also expressed interest in playing for Zimbabwe.
“Preparations should start now,” said Mandenge. “We need to play as many friendly matches as we can after the Africa Cup. I think if we play teams like Belgium and Spain, among others, it can help a lot. All the players who want to represent Zimbabwe should come for trials while there is still time and avoid having players coming in at the last minute. We need to come up with the best squad. Money is the problem but we need to sacrifice to realise this dream.”
Mandenge said while the Sables had so far competed successfully, they need to play well to retain the Africa Cup and maintain their winning run ahead of next year’s edition.
“I did not watch the Kenya/Uganda match but the score line (52-11) suggests that they (Kenya) are a good side which played some brilliant rugby against Uganda. But we have to do everything possible to win that match so that we make winning a habit. That will certainly help us next year,” Mandenge added.
The Kenyans are leaving no stone unturned in their bid to make it to England in 2015, to the extent of roping in players from their Sevens’ side to beef up the 15s side.
The game against Kenya will test the new-look Zimbabwe side missing several players.