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Sables, Warriors unite

REMNANTS of colonialism are clearer in Namibia than in most parts of Africa today.

By Enock Muchinjo

Right in the middle of Katutura, a black township in the capital city Windhoek, lies the Sam Nujoma Stadium, the country’s main football venue these days.

The name Katutura tells a story: in the local Herero language, it means “the place where people do not want to live”.
It is here that a football team from Zimbabwe will take on Namibia on Sunday in the opening qualifying match for the 2018 African Nations Championship (Chan) finals, a competition reserved for players still playing club football in their home countries.

Zimbabwe have qualified for all four previous Chan competitions since inception in 2009. They should make it a fifth time in Kenya next year without much trouble.

The match on Sunday is part of a two-legged tie which Zimbabwe is expected to almost routinely win.

In terms of football, Namibia and Zimbabwe do not compete as equals.

Zimbabwe — who have a higher standing in the game on the continent — are way out of Namibia’s league at the moment.
The Warriors are fresh from winning a record fifth title at the Southern African regional championship, the Cosafa Cup, and the Namibians will be mindful of all that on Sunday.

Twent-four hours earlier, at the Hage Geingob Stadium in the affluent white neighbourhood of Olympia — on the other side of Windhoek and far from the madding crowd — another Namibia-versus-Zimbabwe battle of totally different proportions would have taken place.

It is a rarity in international sports, two nations clashing on the same weekend in the same city, in two different sports.

Tomorrow’s encounter is in rugby, in a match that really ought to be the biggest contest on the African continent, but can now be considered an upset if won by Zimbabwe, due to the history at play.

Namibia have been Africa’s representative at the Rugby World Cup since 1999, mostly at the expense of Zimbabwe. They were only interrupted in 1995 when surprise package Cote d’Ivoire won the continent’s sole ticket to the World Cup in South Africa.

The Namibian Afrikaner population, which has kept rugby alive in the country for many years, has made the sport almost exclusively its own.

In January this year, Namibian sports journalist Carlos Kambaekua remarked during a public hearing how racism was rife in Namibian sport, particularly in rugby.

It could well be also to do with genuine lack of interest among the majority of black Namibians. Whatever the case may be, Zimbabwe, who last beat Namibia in 2002 in rugby, believe they have a very good chance this time around.

The atmosphere at Harare International Airport on Wednesday afternoon was refreshingly lively as the Sables departed for tomorrow’s Gold Cup tie.

It was a marked difference from the turmoil that characterised their camp last year as the Sables lurched from one crisis to another.

Since last week, the Sables enjoyed a near-perfect training camp thanks to the hugely welcome intervention of a new partner, the Sables Trust, unveiled at the union’s headquarters in Harare earlier in the day.

The trust, spearheaded by Harare attorney firm Titan Law, has assumed all welfare responsibilities for the Sables in the team’s latest quest to qualify for the World Cup, which comes around in Japan in 2019.

Corporates such as Portnex International and Zerttew Resources have been with the trust from the very beginning when the Sables opened their 2017 Gold Cup campaign with a 28-16 win away to Senegal three weeks ago.

Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) chief executive Blessing Chiutare hailed the development, calling it a timely boost ahead of the clash with the Welwitschias tomorrow.

“They (trustees) are true friends of rugby and have the sport at heart and for that we are hugely indebted,” Chiutare said.

“Their mandate is to make sure that we stay in this (Gold Cup) group and then qualify for the World Cup next year.

They’ll source funds for the team while the role of the ZRU remains that of administering the game. They have kids who play rugby, and they want all kids to fulfil the dream of playing at the World Cup. They have given us the advantage that the other nations have, making the atmosphere good for players to want to play.”

Coach Cyprian Mandenge, in his second year in charge of the Sables, was equally delighted with the new corporate support, leaving him only with the task of ending a 15-year drought against the Namibians.

Mandenge was quick to address the Sables’ insipid second-half performance, the team’s Achilles heel against Namibia over the years.

“We need to go there and play 80 minutes,” Mandenge said.

“The biggest problem in the past is that guys just gave up fighting in the second half. I know scores will suggest otherwise, but they have never really dominated us. We just didn’t turn up in the second half. Endurance is a big part. Possession is key. Without the ball you’ll need to defend a lot. We must make sure we got ball.”

A major boost for Mandenge is the veteran flank Jacques Leitao, who has answered the national coach’s call once again like he has done time and again for the better part of a decade.

He adds his bags of experience to a loose forwards department full of size, height, strength, youth and mobility.
The Old Georgians star will relish a win over the old enemy in probably his swansong season.

“It’s always very tough to play against them,” said Leitao. “They have a lot of players in professional structures.

But I think our guys are looking very good, very positive. We are going all out on Saturday (tomorrow). It will be such a wonderful feeling to beat them. Self-belief and confidence is a very big thing. We know what to expect from them and when the time comes we will raise our game. We’ve always put bodies on the line for our country and Saturday (tomorrow) is not gonna be any different.”

Leitao, who turns 35 in two weeks’ time, hinted at quitting international rugby at the end of the season.
“I’II probably soon make a decision to retire,” he added.

“I think at the end of the year the writing will be on the wall for me. The coach has shown faith in me again, but I think I will stop at the end of the year.”

Mandenge has, meanwhile, named a mixture of experience and youth in his starting line-up for tomorrow, with Leitao part of a loose trio of exciting prospects.

He will combine with the blind-side flank Connor Pritchard — playing in only his second test after captaining Zimbabwe at Under-20 level last year — and the steely figure of Njabulo Ndlovu, whose return to the Sables fold means Osborne Muhambi does not even make it into the travelling squad.

Another returnee in the loose forwards is Andy Rose, who now plies his trade in the United States after making a name for himself in Scottish domestic rugby. Rose starts from the bench as cover for both flanks and eighthman.

Upfront, captain Denford Mutamangira leads the front row. The towering young Germany-based lock Brian Nyaude is paired with seasoned campaigner Fortune Chipendu in the second row.

The backline has the team’s only test debutant in out-side centre Daniel Capsopolous. The son of former Harare Sports Club captain Dave Capsopolous played in the season-opening friendly against Zambia but missed the Gold Cup opener with Senegal three weeks ago.

The flourishing half-back pairing of experienced flyhalf Tich Makwanya and talented scrumhalf Hilton Mudariki, when in top form, is a potential match-winner for Zimbabwe.

Starting line-up:

15. Teddy Hwata 14. Takudzwa Kumadiro 13. Daniel Capsopolous 12. Ngoni Chibuwe 11. Stephan Hunduza 10. Tichafara Makwanya 9. Hilton Mudariki 8. Njabulo Ndlovu 7. Jacques Leitao 6. Connor Pritchard 5. Brian Nyaude 4. Fortune Chipendu 3. Lawrence Cleminson 2. Tolerance Zishe 1. Denford Mutamangira (capt).

Substitutes: Graham Cochrane, David Makanda, Irvine Nduwa, Andy Rose, Takudzwa Mandiwanza, Scotty Jones, Tinashe Gwisai, Gavin Nyawata.

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