South Africa will be the epicenter of Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia’s preparations for this year’s Africa Cup whose glory comes with a ticket to the England 2015 World Cup finals.
Zimbabwe’s national 15s side will play three matches against Namibia, Madagascar and Kenya. The Group 1A winners will clinch a ticket to England.
The second placed team will get a second chance to qualify via a play-off with a European nation.
Kenya is set to replace the Pampas XV in the 2014 Vodacom Cup competition.
Kenya Rugby Union chairman Mwangi Muthee announced their inclusion on Kenyan radio station Capital FM.
‘Saru (South African Rugby union)confirmed to us that we will play in the Vodacom Cup this season,’ said Muthee, adding that the event will be a great opportunity to help Kenya’s preparation to try and qualify for the 2015 World Cup.
On the other hand the Sables have lined up an intensive training camp from April ahead of the June Africa Cup which bears more importance as it carries with it an England 2015 World Cup berth.
But Kenya will reap more benefits from their participation in the third most prestigious tournament in South African rugby.
Namibia used the same event to prepare for the 2011 World Cup qualifiers and eventually to gear up for the global showcase after gaining qualification.
Namibia is also set to hinge their preparations on South Africa where they draw some of the members of their technical team.
The Sables won the Africa Cup on two occasions in the last three years, losing this year’s final to Kenya albeit fielding a depleted side.
This time the Zimbabwe Rugby Union is aiming to make the best of the preparations with five matches lined up against strong South African provincial sides.
This week the union’s spokesperson David Crouch said they have lined up two home friendlies and three away to South Africa.
While some of the locally based Sables are going through strength and conditioning training at the High performance Centre, intensive preparations will start in April when the European season ends.
The coaches expect to draw a good number of the squad from foreign leagues in a bid to parade a strong side that can upstage Kenya and Namibia.
“We have lined up five matches with South African provincial sides, we cannot name them at this stage because of negotiations going on but we are quite sure that the team will play at least five matches ahead of the Africa Cup,” said Crouch. “The team will be in camp together for a long time starting from April when most of the foreign based players are available.”
With the Africa Cup set for the end of June in Madagascar the Sables are looking to spread their important practice matches in May and June.
Some of the foreign based players that are set to part in the intensive training camp include Nick Winwood (Blackheath, England), Martin Wolfenden (Cambridge, England), Royal Mwale (Ballito Dolphins, SA), Michael Passaportis (Valence, France), Guy Cronje (Lions, SA) Kingsley Lang (Jersey, England), Andrew Rose (Boroughmuir, Scotland), Hilton Mudariki (Amersham & Chiltern, England) and Sean Moan (Blackheath, England).
ZRU is set to meet up with the coaches on Wednesday next week to plan for the year, but despite five matches already secured the coaches are likely to ask for more.
The Sables’ opponents are also leaving no stone unturned in the ir preparations after the eye-opening tri-series played late last year between Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya.
Zimbabwe won admirers particularly in their match against Namibia whom they lost to 33-37, having led at half time.
Kenya had been tipped to give Namibia the stiffest competition but the Sables defied expectation and also beat Kenya in their second match.