Buoyant Cheetahs aim higher

AFTER securing a morale-boosting victory in the inaugural Maseru Sevens in Lesotho last weekend, the Zimbabwe Sevens rugby team will be hoping to take another step towards reclaiming their status as one of the top teams on the continent by winning the Rugby Africa Sevens tournament in Kampala, Uganda, starting next Friday.

DANIEL NHAKANISO

The Zambezi Cheetahs, as the national Sevens team is affectionately known, laid down a marker to their continental rivals with a near-flawless display as they thumped a fast improving Zambian side 38-5 in the final to be crowned the inaugural Maseru Sevens champions.

Buoyed by their recent win, the Cheetahs shift their attention to the Rugby Africa Sevens where another win will not only secure them qualification for next year’s World Cup, but also revive their hopes of attaining core status on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

The top two teams at the Rugby Africa Sevens will automatically qualify for the World Cup to be held next year in San Francisco in the United States and the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series qualifier at next year’s Hong Kong Sevens.

The Zambezi Lager-sponsored Cheetahs will however be quietly confident of going all the way to the coveted title which would also secure them a spot in the fields for the Dubai and Cape Town legs of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series later this year.

Zimbabwe was yesterday drawn in Pool B of the 10-team tournament alongside Madagascar, Senegal, Botswana and Mauritius while Pool A consists of the hosts and defending champions Uganda, Tunisia, Morocco, Zambia and Ghana

Continental powerhouses South Africa and Kenya will not feature in the continental tournament as they have already qualified for the World Cup due to their core status on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens series.

Cheetahs team manager Donald Mangenje said he was impressed with the team’s overall showing in Lesotho and believes there’s enough quality in the Zimbabwe side to win the African title which they last won in Morocco five years ago.

“Our chances are pretty good and we will be going all out to try and win the tournament. Our camp starts on Sunday and we leave for Uganda in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The victory in Maseru was definitely a morale booster for the team and it has come at the righty time as we are now in the final phase of our preparations for the Rugby Africa Sevens. It has also created a few welcome headaches for the technical department led by Gilbert Nyamutsamba in terms of the personnel that is at our disposal,” he said.

Mangenje, a former Zimbabwe international said the fact that they had the luxury to leave out some of their top players and still manage to win the Maseru Sevens was testament of the depth in quality in the Cheetahs setup.

“In Maseru we did not use all the resources that we have but we still managed to come out with a win which shows the depth that we now boast of. The new players have put their hands up and shown that they’re capable to making the team,” he said.
The recent preparatory tournaments in Zambia and Lesotho have provided an ideal platform for new players to put their hands up for selection ahead of an important season.

One of the players who has repaid the coaches’ faith in him is 19-year-old speedster Shingi Hlanguyo, who is a sure pick for Cheetahs gaffer Nyamutsamba ahead of next week’s Africa Sevens.

Blessed with sheer pace and eye for the try line, Hlanguyo was the leading try scorer at the recent Zambia International Sevens before putting on another solid shift in Lesotho.

There have also been some commendable performances from the likes of South Africa-based Ngoni Chibuwe and UK-based Mark Kidson, who is however likely to miss the continental qualifiers due to injury.

Mangenje revealed that Kidson, who plays for Bury Town RFC in the UK was doubtful for the Africa Sevens after limping out of the Cheetahs’ opening match in Lesotho

Also unavailable for selection is the prolific Germany-based speedster Tafadzwa Chitokwindo, who remains sidelined by a foot injury while skipper Hilton Mudariki will need to pass a late fitness test after suffering a hamstring injury in Zambia early this month.

“The biggest blow is Tafadzwa Chitokwindo who’s not managed to recover from the foot injury he suffered in Germany. Mark Kidson is also struggling with a knee injury that he picked up in Zambia and he managed to play only one game in Lesotho.

Hilton Mudariki will have to pass a late fitness test after pulling a hamstring in Zambia,” Mangenje said.

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