A DEPLETED and underprepared Zimbabwe senior rugby team will be hoping to banish memories of last year’s dismal campaign when they tackle an unpredictable Senegalese side in their opening match of the rebranded Rugby Africa Gold Cup in Dakar tomorrow.
The match, which will be played at the Iba Mar Diop Stadium, kicks off at 1730 hours (Zimbabwean time).
The Sables looked a pale shadow of the side which claimed the continental title in 2012 as they were soundly beaten in all their three Africa Cup matches against eventual champions Namibia and East African sides Kenya and Uganda last year.
In fact, Zimbabwe looked set to be relegated from the elite group of African rugby after finishing bottom of the elite group, only to be saved from the embarrassment by continental rugby governing body Rugby Africa’s decision to expand the top-tier group to six teams.
Now Sables coach Cyprian Mandenge, who somehow managed to survive in the wake of the disastrous campaign, has another shot at redemption starting with tomorrow’s clash against the West Africans.
Just like last year, the flagship national rugby side’s preparations for the match have been far from ideal with preparations for the tie only starting Sunday.
Due to a lack of funds as a result of the failure by the Zimbabwe Rugby Union to initiate fundraising activities well in advance meant the team did not manage to get into camp to prepare for the match.
To add insult to injury, the squad which is missing a host of talented players plying their trade beyond the country’s borders only arrived in Dakar yesterday, less than 48 hours before the crucial match.
Sables captain Denford Mutamangira summed up his charges’ frustration at the poor preparations in an interview before the team’s departure.
“Unfortunately it’s (adequate preparations) something that we have not managed to do as Zimbabwe and I don’t know why. It’s something that we have been talking about for years now and nobody seems to be really taking it seriously. They (Zimbabwe Rugby Union) think a game is won when you play for 80 minutes but preparation is key to everything,” Mutamangira fumed.
“To be quite honest we have been there before and it’s actually sad for us to keep on repeating the same mistakes and expect a different result. We used to be very good, I believe we (are) still good but because of our lack of preparation and our lack of organisation it also changes the mind-set of the guys,” he said.
“Look at the other nations; Kenya, Uganda, as much as we still believe that we are better than them but their preparation is way better than ours and it was evident last year; we lost to Kenya by a huge score which is something that should never happen at home but it comes back to preparations.”
Regardless of the shoddy preparations, the Sables will however, still be expected to beat a Senegal, a side they beat the first and only time the two teams met at Prince Edward School in 2005.
They need to win today’s clash ahead of tougher matches against Namibia, Kenya, Tunisia and Uganda to enhance their chances of staying up in the Rugby Africa Gold Cup.
Next year’s Rugby Africa Gold Cup tournament will act as qualifiers for the 2019 Rugby World Cup to be held in Japan.
The Sables technical team was yet to announce its starting XV yesterday.
Forwards: Denford Mutamangira, Lawrence Cleminson, Irvine Nduwa, Brian Makamure, Tolerance Zishe, Graham Cochran, Brian Nyaude, Witness Mandizha, Fortune Chipendo, Takudzwa Mandiwanza, Connor Pritchard, Biselele Tshamala, Osborne Muhambi
Backs: Hilton Mudariki, Makwanya, Lenience Tambwera, Daniel Capsopoulos, Boyd Rouse, Ngoni Chibuwe, Stephan Hunduza, Takudzwa Kumadiro, Tadius Hwata, Tarisai Mugariri
Head coach: Cyprian Mandenge
Team manager: Sam Samu
Physiotherapist: Abigail Mnikwa