Zimrugby still at crossroads

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ZIMBABWEAN rugby’s new interim leadership has been left in limbo after two members reportedly declined appointment, leaving the game in disarray. This comes nine months before a crucial World Cup qualification tournament.

By Enock Muchinjo

Sports minister Makhosini Hlongwane last month announced the appointment of an interim committee to run the affairs of the Zimbabwe Rugby Union (ZRU) following the sacking of a substantive board led by Nyararai Sibanda.

Former national player Russell Karimazondo was appointed head of the committee, with Themba Sibanda, Bongai Zamchiya, Tunga Mashungu and Judith Chiyangwa completing the line up.

Sibanda and Zamchiya are said to have turned down the offer, dealing a blow to concerted efforts to revive fortunes of the game ahead of the qualifiers.

“They have turned down the appointments because due process wasn’t followed,” said a source within the rugby ranks.

“They asked to be briefed on their mandate first but the ministry went ahead and announced the announcements before confirming with them. I understand that government and its departments work in a certain way in this country, but in the private sector it just doesn’t work that way.”

Sibanda is a successful past president of the union, credited with laying the foundation for the success of few seasons ago when Zimbabwe reclaimed its place as a continental powerhouse. The Harare-based entrepreneur is also president of the Zimbabwe Junior Golfers Association and a devoted supporter of some of the country’s brightest sporting prospects.

Also not answering the call is former Old Hararians club chairman and coach Zamchiya, who worked with the union as the Sables Committee chairman when Zimbabwean rugby enjoyed a brief purple patch.

Zimbabwe were crowned African champions in 2011 and nearly qualified for the World Cup in 2015 with John Falkenberg now at the helm. The other members of the five-member committee announced by Hlongwane are former women’s rugby boss Judith Chiyangwa alongside highly-rated youth coach and ex-Zimbabwe Under-20 manager Tunga Mashungu, now headmaster of Gateway High School in Harare.

Meanwhile, Brendan Dawson, who took Zimbabwe on the brink of World Cup qualification three years ago, has reapplied for the now vacant Sables coaching post.

ZRU last month announced it had parted ways with Cyprian Mandenge after a disastrous two years in charge of the Sables.

Under Mandenge, Zimbabwe were fortunate to avoid relegation from the top-flight division of the Africa Cup after losing to Namibia, Kenya, Tunisia and Uganda and only beating minnows Senegal.

Relegation would have eliminated Zimbabwe from next year’s World Cup qualification tournament.

And having turned Zimbabwe into African champions and taking the team very close to the 2015 World Cup in his spell as coach between 2007 and 2014, 50-year-old Dawson believes he can inspire the team to not only reach those heights again — but qualify for the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

Zimbabwe played at the 1987 and 1991 World Cups, where they were the only African team in both tournaments.

Dawson, a tenacious flanker in his heyday, played in the 1991 edition and later became the country’s captain.

He was the captain when Zimbabwe hosted world giants Wales in a high-profile Test at the National Sports Stadium in Harare in 1998.

Among his teammates that afternoon was the debutant winger Russell Karimazondo, the newly-appointed ZRU interim president, who has been tasked with pulling Zimbabwean rugby from the abyss it has sunk in the last three years.

Karimazondo may also try to use the old-boys network to make headway in his new role.

One of Zimbabwe’s greatest rugby players of all time, Kennedy Tsimba — who featured at fly-half against the Welsh — could also be roped in some advisory role.

Tsimba, a World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee, currently works as director of rugby at St Alban’s College, one of South Africa’s leading private schools.

The former Currie Cup maestro revealed in a 2015 interview his willingness to help his country of birth, but only if he was approached.

If handed the job for a second tenure, Dawson is said to be also keen on engaging former centre Daniel Hondo, his captain when Zimbabwe flirted with World Cup qualification the last time out.

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