THE rebranded Sables will this weekend test whether their new-found combination of strength and silk can secure a ticket to England for the 2015 World Cup finals.
Report by Kevin Mapasure
Their tri-series with Kenya and hosts of Namibia is a useful barometer the Sables’ reinvention and preparedness to upstage the continent’s best.
Zimbabwe need to finish table toppers in the Africa Cup Group 1A to get an automatic ticket to the finals, while a second-place finish guarantees them another shot via the play-offs.
The Sables have beefed up both the squad and the technical team with the appointment of Liam Middleton as technical director and Grant Mitchel as fitness and conditioning coach.
While Madagascar, who host next year’s Africa Cup, are one of the four teams with a World Cup chance, the three that converge in Namibia tomorrow are likely to tussle for the two World Cup qualification spots.
Zimbabwe lost to Kenya in this year’s Africa Cup final 29-17, albeit while fielding a weakened side after player unrest over selection issues. That result might have given the Sables’ opponents false hope.
The Sables have not fared well in the past against Nambia, but were African champions in 2011 and 2012 while rivals Namibia languished in Group 1b.
Coach Brendan Dawson believes they have built a stronger force now and expect to win the two matches.
“The squad has improved a great deal. I think with the new players there is more skill and the size has improved as well,” said Dawson. “This tri-series is an opportunity to look at players we have brought in, but these guys play for top sides in top leagues in South Africa and Europe. It is also an opportunity to test the strengths of our opponents ahead of next year’s qualifiers.
“I think all three teams are going to be very strong and it’s going to be hard for everyone. But we are going there to play our best rugby and we think
we have selected our best team to win all three matches. It’s important for us to go out there and win.”
Players that have come in include Andrew Rose who represented Scotland at junior level, as well as Michael Passaportis who plies his trade in France.
After a bruising two weeks fighting for places in the squad the team expects a winning start today when they take on the hosts at Hage Geingob Stadium.
Kick-off is at 7.30pm.
The Namibians expect Kenya to pose a greater challenge than Zimbabwe but the Sables aim to prove they are a strong force as well. Namibia participated at the last global rugby showcase in New Zealand.
In their last eight meetings Zimbabwe have only won once (27-26) against Namibia in 2001, and have lost all other matches including a 37-33 setback in
Despite that record, Dawson is confident Zimbabwe can win against Namibia.
“It’s a bit different now we have a strong team. We have new players coming in and I think we have prepared well enough. We are confident of winning both matches, it’s our target. We also have lots of experience in the team, the guys who are coming in have experience in professional leagues which will help us. We have a bit more balance and stability now so we want to see what we can achieve and if it’s good we will aim for continuity ahead of the qualifiers next year.”
Zimbabwe play Kenya on Tuesday in their last match of this series, but have three matches lined up against South African provincial sides before the crucial qualifiers in April.
Tangai Nemadire, Gardner Nechironga, Sean Moan, Daniel Hondo (c), Stephan Hunduza, Lenience Tambwera, Hilton Mudariki, Kingsley Lang, Jacques Leitao, Fortune Chipendu, Michael Passaportis, Jan Ferreira, Nick Winwood, Keith Murray, Pieter Joubert
Replacements: Royal Mwale, Kevin Nqindi, Martin Wolfenden, Andrew Rose, Phil Machisa, Boyd Rouse, Fidel Nyabusha and Lungile Tshuma.